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Putting Now and Then Back Together Again

Alden Cudanin, creator of Toronto Before, has been into history ever since a trip to Black Creek Pioneer Village with his mom in 1984. Hooked in 2001 by a collection of old photos of New York City juxtaposed with new photos taken of the same locations from the same perspectives, Cudanin told Torontoist, he “was amazed at how much of a change a city can go through over time and still keep many landmarks during its transformation.” He started digging through old photos of Toronto in the City Archives and picking up old postcards from antique shows and eBay, and reshooting them. Like Jeff Low, who’s particularly good at exploring the idea, Cudanin’s a member of Urban Toronto, the forum whose Then & Now thread has more than 2,500 replies.
About a year ago, though, Cudanin decided that rather than just juxtapose the two contrasting photos—old beside new, then alongside now—he’d start making them into one.


“Combining the two,” he explains, “gives us a better perspective of how things have changed, how things could have been if changes were not made, and just a general feel of the past and present mixed into one.” His “remixes” take elements from each of the two eras depicted, like buildings, cars, pedestrians, street signs, and other bits of infrastructure, and try to elegantly shove them together. (Fourteen of his best remixes are above; he adds more weekly to his Flickr set. He also made this.) The resulting images are compelling precisely because of their weirdness: befuddled-looking pedestrians from the past seem even more befuddled as 1997 sedans drive behind cars from fifty years earlier, and new blue condos take attention away from the sepias and grays that colour the earliest shots.
Cudanin is especially interested in what he calls the “Could Have” buildings, “the historical buildings….[which] would be considered great Toronto landmarks” if they hadn’t vanished, like the Board of Trade Building, Bank of Toronto, the Manning Arcade, and the Armouries. “When I look at old pictures of these buildings,” Cudanin says, “I wonder how anyone would vote ‘yes’ to [their] demolition.”
Like the creators of most remixes, Cudanin’s finished work is his, even as it’s indebted to the work of someone else: the older shots, which determine the setting, angle, and much of the composition. Cudanin’s had help from the present, too: while he shot most of the photos that make up the new parts of his remixes, some are from Jeff Low’s collection, and the technique for merging the pieces is one that George Dunbar—who has made some impressive remixes himself—helped Cudanin hone.
“Mixing the past and the present through [then and now] photos provides the answer to the most common question historical photo enthusiasts commonly ask,” Cudanin explains. “‘What did this place look like before?’ Personally, my imagination sometimes runs wild in situations where I could envision the then and now right before my eyes…when I stand in front of the now Hockey Hall of Fame (then Bank of Montreal)…I could place myself at that dirt intersection of Yonge and Front and see the Board of Trade building of one hundred years ago.”
All remixed images by Alden Cudanin.

CORRECTION: JANUARY 7, 2010 When this article was first published, the first photo in the set above was identified as being shot at Yonge and College; in fact, its setting is Yonge and Queen. Additionally, the location of this shot was mislabeled as “Queen West and Bolton”; it’s Queen East and Boulton.

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