Skip to main content

The King Edward Hotel: 'The classic architecture of the past has a strength that extends to the human spirit and sustains it.'

Should classic Toronto buildings be preserved, or should progress prevail? It's a complicated question, but for local photographer Andy Brooks it's a black or white issue. His work is part of a new exhibit at the Market Gallery, Toronto Observed Through Three Generations: Photographs by Harry Joy, Doug Hemmy and Andy Brooks. We spoke to Mr. Brooks by phone.

On your website, you say you prefer to work in black and white, because it stirs the imagination. Can you explain what you mean by that?Colour can put more of a time stamp on a photo, whereas black and white is more timeless. Your mind is filling in blanks because it doesn't have all that it normally sees. It also leaves one wondering if it was shot last week or 50 years ago.

There's a sense of stoicism you seem to capture in the classic buildings.
It's definitely a part of what I see. These great buildings are really a reflection of our past, and those buildings that survive should be embraced as part of our present and future. I frequently wonder about the things that have happened in or around the buildings I photograph. Elections, protests, grand parades after the First World War and the Second World War, and the incredible changes that have happened, both good and bad. They have survived them all. The classic architecture of the past has a strength that extends to the human spirit and sustains it.

Are there any buildings that stand out for you?
I'm asked that frequently. The best answer I can give is that my favourite building is the next one I'm going to photograph. I've been working a fair bit on Queen Street lately, capturing some older buildings that have a little history behind them.

The demolition of the Stollery's building on Yonge Street is a hot topic these days. What are your thoughts on the preservation of architecture?
You have to pick and choose. Is the Honest Ed's building a classic piece of architecture that needs to be saved? No. But I think the sign and what Ed Mirvish did are definitely worth preserving. There's a wide taste in what people think is worth saving, and I think it warrants discussion and a collective decision. But a developer should not be deciding, that's for sure.

The Market Gallery exhibit collects the black-and-white work of three generations of Toronto photographers. What can you tell me about Harry Joy?
Harry is 97. I met him in 2005, and he's my best friend now. There are all kinds of advantages of having a 97-year-old friend. First of all, he refers to me as the kid. As someone turning 50, that's pretty nice. He's got a great memory of the way things were done previously. I work in a very slow manner now – very manual, although digital. A lot of that comes from Harry.

And in between the two of you, age-wise, is Doug Hemmy. What's his deal?
Doug has spent more time in an airplane than I have on a streetcar. The three of us usually get together once a week, for lunch or coffee. We discuss photography, art or anything that's going on in the city. With the mix of the three of us discussing our work together, the result has been an improvement in my work, and I think in Doug's work, too.

How so?
Doug still travels and uses colour, but he's started to focus more on Toronto-related stuff. And for that he's shooting in black and white. Harry and I like to think we helped him find religion.

Toronto Observed Through Three Generations: Photographs by Harry Joy, Doug Hemmy and Andy Brooks is on display to May 9. Free. The Market Gallery, 95 Front St. E., 416-392-7604 or toronto.ca/marketgallery