Foncie Pulice with some of his photos.
On September 27, 1979 street photographer Foncie
Pulice took his last picture. Foncie and his Electric-Photo camera
had been a familiar sight on city streets for a jaw-dropping 45
years. Hed begun as a 20-year-old away back in 1934 as an
assistant to street photographer Joe Iaci, and had taken millions
of photographs since. (It is possible Foncie Pulice photographed
more people than anyone who ever lived.) I said Id retire
at 65, and I kept my word, he said in a November 21, 1979
interview in the Province.
When I started back in 1934, Foncie
recalled in that interview, there were six companies
in Vancouver, but when we really started to go was during the war.
The public couldnt get film, you see, so the street photographers
were all they had. Servicemen would come home on leave, theyd
have pictures taken. Families would get together, wed take
their picture. At one time, I was taking 4,000 to 5,000 pictures
Did he save all those millions of negatives? Theyd
likely be worth a small fortune now. I never did, he
said. I didnt really think about it at the time. Id
keep em for a year, then throw em out. I realize now
I should have saved them, but its too late. He recalled
smilingly that his best customers were local native Indian people.
His wife Annie nods in agreement. The very best, she
said. I worked in the store, behind the counter and developing,
and theyd come in with the slip for the pictures and theyd
order half-a-dozen of this one and half-a-dozen of that, and poster-size
pictures, all sorts of pictures.
I took pictures of their kids, whole families,
Foncie adds. Theyd come in droves. Id see a bunch
of people coming down the street. If there was a native person,
Id wait and take his picture. They were the best.
People even made appointments for street pictures!
Oh, yes. Theyd phone ahead and tell us what time theyd
be walking down Granville. Dr. Peter Bell-Irving had members of
his family photographed every year. I have shots showing one little
tyke in that family growing all the way up to six-foot-five.
One of the reasons I got into street photography,
Foncie told me during that interview, with a sidelong glance at
his wife, Ann, was because I wanted to meet girls. It was
a great way to meet girls. I used to live in the 900 block Seymour
and I had a whole wall of phone numbers. Really. Right up on the
wall. And beside every number thered be a little description
of the girl. I used to get calls all the time from other fellows.
Hey, Foncie, you know all the girls--can you fix us up with
Ann laughed. She knew about that wall. You
should have saved it, she told Foncie. It could go in
Well, the wall didnt go into a museum, but
the camera did, a remarkable artifact of a remarkable career. Made
of war surplus materials, Foncies camera is preserved at the
Vancouver Museum. Its part of their 1950s gallery, and is
accompanied by a slew of Foncies Fotos.
All across Canada and in other countries there are
thousands and thousands of Foncies Fotos, showing thousands
and thousands of people striding along the street, captured in motion
in unposed moments that may be closer to the spirit of the people
shown than any carefully composed studio portrait.
Foncie Pulice was the last of the street photographers.
He had taken his first street photo in 1934. He would take his last
on September 27, 1979. He died January 20, 2003 at age 88, but his
work lives on . . . everywhere.
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