Foncie Pulice was Vancouver’s most prolific street photographer. He took over 15 million photos in his lifetime, his images a hallmark of many Vancouver family photo albums. If you happened to walk south on the east side of the 700 block of Granville Street in the spring of ’68, Foncie may have taken your photo as you passed.
Foncie would then hand you a claim ticket, instructing you to visit his storefront the next day, check out a proof of your photo, and if you liked it, order copies in various sizes. If you were visiting from out of town, you’d pay on the spot and have your photos delivered to your home.
A unique retrospective of Pulice’s work will open tomorrow and continue through January 5, 2014 at the Museum of Vancouver.
Foncie’s Fotos: Man on the Street, reveals the life and work style of the iconic Vancouver photographer.
Foncie Pulice shot from locations along Granville and Hastings for almost 40 years. He photographed without discrimination, capturing the full range of ages, ethnicities, and classes that congregated downtown. At a time when personal cameras were rare and family portraits were expensive, Foncie sometimes created the only surviving image of a family member.
He took his first photo in 1933.
According to Joan Seidl, exhibition curator, “Foncie captured people in motion, literally in mid-stride, stepping with energy into Vancouver’s future. His camera lens was fixed at about waist height and pointing slightly up, so that everyone appears slightly larger than life, commanding their patch of sidewalk for an instant.”
Foncie claimed that he destroyed all of his negatives, however this wasn’t the case. The exhibition includes projected images from a surviving reel of 10,700 negatives, each painstakingly hand-digitized for the exhibition.
The photos were shot in May and June of 1968 on Granville near Robson. During his career, he also worked his electric photo magic on Hastings by Granville, and Granville by Pender, Dunsmuir, and Smithe street corners. His favourite corner however was the 700 block of Granville mentioned above.
His nighttime locations included Granville Street’s Theatre Row under the marquees of the Orpheum, Capitol, and Vogue theatres as well as in front of the Commodore Ballroom.
[Foncie left every 10th frame or so blank to keep track of clients]
Anything from people dressed up in their weekend best to being in uniform on leave during the war, the energy of everyday life was captured through Foncie’s lens.
Foncie had competition: with easy-to-use cameras, street photographers flourished. Established companies such as The Movie Flash, Movie Snaps, Kandid Kamera Snaps, Kandid Action Pictures, Metro Fotos, World Wide New Action Snaps and Totem Photos were all listed in the Vancouver city directories of the 1940’s.
Still, he outlasted many of his competitors, even hiring some of them to take photos for him. By the 1960’s, he felt disillusioned with the way business was run. With too much overhead, he scaled back his operation, later staffing up for the PNE.
At his peak, Foncie recalls having shot 4,000 to 5,000 images a day, “shooting volume”. This changed by 1970, when production was only between 150 to 200 photos per day.
Foncie’s camera, donated to the Museum upon his retirement in 1979, is a wacky assemblage of war surplus metal plate on wheels decorated with a red plastic lightening bolt. Its flash was powered by a car battery.
The camera used large reels of movie film so that Foncie could shoot for hours on end.
[Fashion historian Ivan Sayers with his parents, Keith and Ruby Sayers, 1951]
The exhibition has collaborated with the Knowledge Network, which has produced shorts about Foncie to be shown in the exhibition, as well as a feature documentary that will premiere on BC Day, August 5th at 9:30 pm.
Readers in possession of Foncie’s photos are strongly encouraged to upload them for possible use in the documentary.
Foncie’s Fotos: Man on the Street
Dates: June 6 to January 5, 2014
Venue: Museum of Vancouver, 1100 Chestnut Street, Vancouver
Tickets: Adults, $12; Students/Seniors, $10; Youth (ages 5-17), $8; Available both online and at the museum entrance.