Foncie's street photos part of new exhibit

In the era before people had personal cameras, let alone cameras built into their phones, street photographers snapped shots of passersby in Vancouver.

"We have lots of stories of people coming to town and looking forward to having their photo taken as part of the souvenir of their visit to the big city," said Joan Seidl, who has curated a new exhibit about Vancouver's most famous street photographer, Foncie Pulice, for the Museum of Vancouver.

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Foncie's Fotos: Man on the Street opens June 6 and runs until Jan. 5 at 1100 Chestnut St. The exhibit includes projections of 10,700 images that Pulice shot over just two months on Granville Street near Robson Street in 1968, along with photos that date from the late 1930s to 1979.

Born in 1914, Pulice was an Italian-Canadian who grew up in Strathcona. He initially worked as a housepainter but was drawn to his friend's job as a street photographer.

"His friend seemed to be having a lot of luck meeting women that way," Seidl said.

Pulice opened Foncie's Fotos in 1946 when his fiancée bought him his first camera. The camera Pulice donated to the museum when he retired in 1979 is featured in the exhibit. It's a tall assemblage of war surplus metal plate on wheels with a car battery powering its flash. Pulice bought it from his competitor, Cecil Hutchison of Electric Photos.

"[It] had a flash so he could take photos of you at night or maybe at night not just under a movie marquee where the marquee supplied the lighting," Seidl said.

The camera used large reels of movie film so that Pulice could shoot for hours.

Pulice would snap a person's photo and then hand him or her a numbered claim ticket with the address of his storefront. The individual could visit the next day, study the negative of the photo under a magnifying glass and then order prints.

Pulice shot indiscriminately. He took thousands of photos each year and about 15 million over his lifetime in Vancouver. He snapped children, seniors, Chinese-Canadians, aboriginal people and people of all classes mostly on Granville Street and at the PNE.

At a time when family portraits were expensive, Pulice sometimes created the only surviving image of a family member.

"It's like everybody's in motion, stepping forward," Seidl said. "I imagine them striding purposefully into their future."

Pulice, the last of Vancouver's street photographers, died in 2003.

Meeting descendants of those captured by Pulice has highlighted concerns for Seidl.

"[People are] stumbling over the concrete remnant of Foncie's work, the little three-and-a-half-inch by four-inch-high black and white photo. And the concrete reality of that is what's raising these questions for them about their parents or their grandparents or life in Vancouver at an earlier time," said Seidl, director of collections and exhibitions for the museum. "I just don't know how we're going to stumble over these digitized things. I have a hard enough time finding them when I actually go looking through my digitized photos."

The exhibit also includes shorts produced by the Knowledge Network. For more information, see museumofvancouver.ca.

crossi@vancourier.com

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