Even though he denies it, Jeff Low is providing Toronto with a valuable service. In his spare time, Low (or “Mustapha” as he’s better known online) recreates vintage photos from the Toronto Archives and then posts the then and now photos at Urban Toronto (a popular Toronto design and architecture forum). Low isn’t the first to recreate Toronto’s vintage photos, or even the best, but his collection is the city’s largest, and since starting in April 2008, he estimates that he’s recreated more than a thousand photos. “Urban Toronto inspired me,” Low told Torontoist. “There was already some of that going on on a spotty basis—I decided to make a regularity of it.”
Low’s technique is simple: he prints a picture from the archives and then uses it to orient his shot. For the most part, this method has worked. However, extensive redevelopment in some areas of the city has made certain photos tricky or impossible to reproduce. “Some of Toronto’s downtown has been so totally wiped out that there are no landmarks,” explained Low. “You have an old building, and you have a street, but sometimes things don’t jive, so I don’t post the picture.” So far, he has only been using images from the Toronto Archives’ digital collection, but he hopes to branch out and tackle new archives or maybe even people’s personal photo collections. “At some point, the low hanging fruit are going to disappear, and I’ll have to find other sources.”
Low’s work has not gone unnoticed. His thread at Urban Toronto is a big hit, and he told us that he’s received word that people in the mayor’s office are constantly checking out his photos. But Low’s not out for recognition or to perform some great public service. “I do it for my own amusement,” concluded Low. “I’m a history buff. All these old buildings that got torn down—for good or bad reasons—it’s a shame they’re gone…You look at some of these old buildings and they bring out memories of times spent there. It’s worthwhile to think about them again.”
Jeff Low’s full “Then and Now” photo collection is available at Urban Toronto.