Last week Peter MacCallum, Canadian documentary photographer, was documenting the building that Akin’s Dufferin Studios are in. Peter has a quick easy smile and bright eyes that tend upwards, taking in the girders and joints of the beams and structural elements of 444 Dufferin, Unit E. He seemed pleased to note the white water heater perched on top of the bathroom unit. It’s something he sees often in buildings like this one, he says. Since 2005 Peter has embarked on over twenty new documentary projects and completed several large ones. Toronto viewers scanning his work (he has several collections published as books with Goose Lane and was featured by cbc here ) will no doubt recognize many familiar places; Massey Hall, the underbelly of the Gardiner Expressway, the interior of Jacob’s Hardware on Queen Street.
In an introduction to his book Material Worlds, Rebecca Diederichs writes of discovering his photos, ‘’MacCallum’s images depict[ed…] the interiors of industrial and commercial places located in the heart of downtown, his photos became my descriptive maps. They illustrated Toronto’s recent retail, industrial and construction history, and were layered with details about this city’s working life’’. Peter bought his first camera in about 1970, but says he didn’t find a way of working until around 1980. When I ask him what the key was to finding the heart of his work he says ‘’ It's important for a documentary photographer to understand light and have a solid technique, but it's also important to find and develop one's own subject, and not just repeat what others have done. I often work with subject matter from my own community, but I am aware that people outside my community are going to see my images. When you are contributing to social history, you have to take a more objective, long term approach. ''
He will do the entire building; conveniently he is a friend of Alfred the super who is also an artist. At the time we catch him at Akin, he seems to be enjoying his work very much. He is stuck on a shot documenting the area around the kilns, particularly the silver exhaust tube that is draped casually over the florescent lights, and the electrical boxes with text scrawled all over them. He is generous as he works, telling me about the shot he is trying to get, the relationships between objects, and the way the edges of the frame are crucial. In doing so he reveals a little about how he manages to get what he needs, how he has managed to document this city. ‘’To do this work in the factories I needed to gain the trust of the people who inhabit those spaces. It is important to have a sincere approach to the work, to be able to convince people of your sincerity. That you are not in it for a quick reward. ‘’
Photographs used with permission of the artist: Middle and Bottom: Peter MacCallum Top: Erin Candela