Erik Mauer knows how to take a good photo. The twenty-two-year-old York University student and self-described urban explorer has a knack for capturing gritty, majestic, and surreal scenes in his photography, and his latest project, which involves “superimposing old photos with the new urban landscape,” is a tantalizing mix of all three of these qualities.
Unlike then-and-now photo masters Jeff Low and Alden Cudanin, or the legions of history buffs that regularly contribute to Urban Toronto’s popular Then & Now thread, Mauer prefers a hands-on approach to Toronto’s history. Instead of juxtaposing two separate photos or Photoshopping them together, Mauer prints off the historic photos that he wants to compare, lines them up within the context of their modern surroundings, and then photographs the results.
Mauer first discovered the technique when he stumbled upon Looking into the Past, a Flickr group devoted to mashing up the old and the new. “One day, I was just looking through the Toronto Archives and I decided to try it myself, so I went out and took a few photos,” he told Torontoist.
While the process looks simple, it actually takes quite a bit of trial and error. According to Mauer, each successful mash-up usually requires about forty test photos to get right. “I hold the pictures myself—I can’t reach out that far sometimes, so I have to get large [images]…and sometimes you have to rotate them a fraction of millimetre to get everything lined up. You only have an arm’s length to work with, so you have to take multiple photo sizes along with you.”
When he’s searching through the archives, Mauer likes to look for photos of buildings that are “half cut off,” so he “can match up the [modern] building lines directly with the old photograph,” or images with “a human element,” like his group shot from the now defunct CFB Downsview (Downsview Airport).
Mauer’s photos are rapidly gaining popularity online, but when he’s out taking photos in the middle of the street or hanging over subway platforms, his hobby often earns him confused stares from passers-by. “It’s cool though,” he explained to us. “Some people approach you and you can show them the old photograph, and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing.’ They know that the buildings are old, but they haven’t grasped how much time has passed.”
While he’s only posted ten comparisons so far, Mauer informed us that he has around fifty historic photos printed off and ready to go—it’s just a matter of finding the time to take the photos. The next slate of images he hopes to post will feature the CN Tower, Union Station, and the Fairmont Royal York.
Photos by Erik Mauer.