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Once Upon a Time, Street Photographers Worked Our Sidewalks Hard

Still image from: fonciescorner.ca

Today, the term ‘Street photography’ refers to photojournalists, documentary photographers, or flâneurs like Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fred Herzog, and Vivian Maier. But back in their heyday of the 1930s to the 1950s, the term ‘street photography’ described a photographer who solicited strangers on the street offering to take their photos for a fee. Like most cities of the era, the streets of Vancouver were once host to street photographers and their sidewalk studios.

With the early 1930s came the era of the Street Photographer. During the Great Depression, people barely had enough money for the necessities in life, much less for any extras like a family portrait taken in a studio. During times of economic struggle, people are often forced to re-invent themselves and the way they do business. That’s exactly what happened in 1930s North America, when many photographers had to move from their refined studio spaces to the outdoors. They were literally out on the street.

Street photographers (also referred to as “sidewalk photographers”) would take “walking photos”- candid shots of individuals, couples, families and other groups walking down the street. The photographer would then hand the subject a numbered ticket with an invitation to drop by their shop later that day to purchase a copy of the picture. The trend gained momentum into war years of the 1940s, when film was in short supply and servicemen on leave would want photos of themselves in uniform to send home or have a photo memento of their sweetheart to take with them.

“It wasn’t only men that worked as street photographers. During my research I found many newspaper ‘help wanted’ listings from the 1940s and 1950s by street photography studios looking for ‘camera girls’.”

According to a 1941 ‘Province’ article, 18 sidewalk photographers from five different companies “snapped” roughly 3,500 Vancouverites per day at the height of “the picture season”. However, only 20% of the images were purchased as prints, which left a lot of unused tickets littering the streets downtown . The litter became such an issue that in 1941 a City committee investigated the operations of the street photographers. Realizing that they couldn’t just eliminate them, the committee recommended that the photographers hand out smaller tickets to potential customers, take ‘snaps’ less indiscriminately and ask that recipients not throw the tickets away on the street.

Front & back of numbered ticket from Candid Photos of Victoria, BC. Photo: collection of C. Hagemoen

An exhibition at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) in 2013-14 called ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ celebrated the era of street photography, and one photographer in particular, Foncie Pulice. Foncie was undoubtedly the most famous and prolific of Vancouver’s street photographers, most likely due to the fact that he stuck around the longest. He created about 15 million images in his 45-year career (1934-1979) as a street photographer.

Much has been written about Foncie already. I won’t go into detail about his story here, but you can learn all about him in Chuck Davis’ “The History of Metropolitan Vancouver” website, and view many of his photos and a documentary film at the ‘Foncie’s Corner’ website.

Foncie may have been the longest running street photographer, but he was far from the only one. There were a number of street photographers working in Vancouver in the 1930s to 1950s. In fact, Foncie’s first job was as an assistant for street photographer Joseph (Joe) Iaci, who established ‘Kandid Kamera Snaps’ (1939-1955) at 612 West Hastings. After Iaci left the photography business in the early 1950s to go into the hotel industry in Campbell River, Kandid Kamera Snaps continued operation under the proprietorship of Edward G. Brooke. He added a second location at 624 Columbia in New Westminster.

There was also a company called ‘Movie Snaps’ which operated from 1939 to 1950 from 541 Granville. A check in the Vancouver and New Westminster City Directory from 1940, lists the proprietors as Earl R. Jones and Roy S. Craig. The second half of the 1940s sees Movie Snaps under the proprietorship of Francis P. Stephens. Curiously, the 1950 directory lists Alphonso (Foncie) Pulice as the proprietor of ‘Movie Snaps’. This is very interesting as the same directory has a listing for ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ at 955 Seymour. Pulice later moved the business end of Foncie’s Fotos to Granville.

‘Walking photos’ from 4 different Street Photography companies (L-R): Movie Snaps, Movie Flash, Kandid Kamera Snaps, and James Photo Service. Photos courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives

The other ‘street photography’ studios operating in Vancouver during this era were:

– ‘The Movie Flash’ (on West Hastings St.) operated by Vince Costello from 1939 to about 1946/47

– ‘Souvenir Walkie Snaps’ also opening around 1939 was operated by Roy Bacon and George Wynne at various locations downtown until 1949

– ‘James Photo Service’ (#23 -441 Seymour St.) opened by R. McCarty and Paul F. Schenkel in 1945, by 1947 Schenkel is listed as the sole proprietor until about 1951

– ‘World Wide Action Snaps’ operated by Julius Balshine out of 867 Granville Street for 10 years from 1941 to 1951

– ‘Metro Fotos’ (Photos) located at 193 East Hastings was run by Ernest Metro Brandt from about 1945 until about 1949. Before he opened his own business, Foncie Pulice was the manager at Metro Fotos in 1946

– ‘Famous Pictures Movie Snaps’ (1946), ‘Totem Photos’ (1954-1958), and ‘Vancouver Movie Snaps’ (1948) were also on the scene

– And even milkshake murderer Rene Castellani got into the street photography game in 1948 operating ‘Rene’s Photos’ out of the old Movie Flash spot at 417 West Hastings Street.

Though street photographers are believed to have operated as early as 1934, I cannot find any listings for them in the City Directories prior to 1938/39. My guess is that street photography didn’t become a full-time “industry” until a few years after it emerged on the streets of the city. It’s likely that most street photographers, like Foncie Pulice, were initially only working part-time ‘snapping’ the citizens of 1930s Vancouver.

It wasn’t only men that worked as street photographers. During my research I found many newspaper ‘help wanted’ listings from the 1940s and 1950s by street photography studios looking for “camera girls”. One such photographer was Audrey Gibson, who worked for ‘Movie Snaps’ in 1942. This photograph from the City of Vancouver Archives shows Gibson in action, camera strapped around her neck, handing a receipt to a customer…

Portrait of Audrey Gibson, street photographer handing a receipt to a customer, 1942. Photo: Jack Lindsay, CoV Archives, CVA 1184-250.

By the late 1950s only two street photography studios remained – Totem Photos and Foncie’s Fotos. The advent of television meant that more people were staying at home to be entertained rather than head out to a movie theatre, and the birth of the suburban shopping mall meant that less people were shopping downtown. In the end, only Foncie was left to keep the street photography tradition alive until he retired in 1979.

I love looking at these old ‘walking photos’ they possess a lively sense of animation and engagement – they are more relaxed portraits than those captured in the studio. These images also reveal a sense of formality in the way people dressed while out and about on the city streets. Whether they were conducting business, shopping, or going to the cinema – in those days people would dress up to go downtown, especially if they knew they were going to get their photograph taken.


  • Kandid Kamera photo of man and boy walking on Columbia Street, New Westminster. Photo from: fonciescorner.knowledge.ca
  • Foncie's Fotos photo ca. 1950s. Photo: collection of C. Hagemoen
  • Foncie photo of two young women wearing work overalls walking downtown Vancouver, early 1940s. Photo from: fonciescorner.knowledge.ca
  • Portrait of Audrey Gibson, street photographer handing a receipt to a customer, 1942. Photo: Jack Lindsay, CoV Archives, CVA 1184-250.
  • A sample of Foncie’s film negatives from the 2013 ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ exhibit at the MOV. Photo: C. Hagemoen.
  • Mr. Mount and daughter on a downtown Vancouver street, 1940s. Photo: CoV Archives, 2009-005.226

There are 10 comments

  1. Love this. I have my grandparents “walking photo” and it’s a wonderful capture of them.

  2. Christine Hagermoen huge thanks for your excellent research presented in this terrifically useful article. I have shared a link to it on the Facebook public group of snapshot collectors: “Snapshot Mafia.” If you are not already aware–or a member of this group, you might want to check it out for its regular posts of sidewalk photography and a lot more eccentric snapshot images. BTW – your research goes a long way towards proving that most of these unlabeled snapshot size images are far from casual, naive snapshots, but are instead very calculated commercial work of unrecognized and underappreciated professionals.

  3. What was the name of the street photographer in Victoria? I have a picture of myself, mother and grandmother around 1958.

  4. Would love to see the photo of my Nan, Ellen Palmer and I taken on Columbia Street, New Westminster BC

  5. A really interesting article. I have been researching this trade in Britain for some time, and have pushed the trade back to 1913 here (the first dated example) and certainly it was already massive by the early 1920s. I think in North America and Canada it began first with the cheaper tintype prints. It seems to have grown out of the itinerant photography trade where people set up on beaches and at fairs with portable darkrooms. Anyhow, I have a website for anyone interested in the British connection: https://gohomeonapostcard.wordpress.com/

  6. Does anyone know anything about Dalbert Le Marquand who worked in Victoria around 1939 or 1941, He may have move to Vancouver after 1941. I would love to know more about him.

  7. Ran across this while doing a little research on street photographers, tough to do since that definition is so wide. I have to say, I was an advertising and commerical photographer for most of my career, and I remember my first job out of college being at an ad photo studio in a run down old building in Milwaukee. This would have been the mid 1970’s, and there was still at least one person doing this work then, he had a ramshackle office and a little darkroom on our floor. He was sort of a “ghost”, because we only saw him late at night, coming and going. I remember he still haunted the streets at night for subjects around the arena and auditorium and under the lit marquees, during sporting events and some concerts. It was all done by mail then, you sent in your card with money and he sent you your photo; altho I heard stories of people getting someone elses photo. He couldn’t have lasted longer than maybe the late 70’s. End of an era…

  8. Awesome read experienced these photo people in 1955 while stationed in Vancouver with the RCAF loved walking downtown Vancouver did purchased a few but sadly lost them all over the years, would give anything to have them now.

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