Fonice Pulice is Vancouver. Rather, was Vancouver.
A post-World War II street photographer, he’d set up shop on Granville Street, he’d engage you with a look and hopefully you gave him a smile, he’d snap your photo, and he’d hand you a ticket. You’d take it to his shop, and you could buy your photo – a great one, no doubt. It was a luxury in the Forties and just beyond, when not everyone could afford a camera, and when not everyone had a perfect one attached to the backside of every cell phone.
It’s estimated he took 15 million photos over his career, although most were destroyed by the man himself.
“He had a policy of destroying his negatives after one year,” says Jane Seidl, curator of Foncie’s Fotos at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV), where en exhibit on Pulice’s work and life is being held.
“What I love about the photos is the sense of forward momentum,” she said. “Ideally, he wanted to catch you mid-stride, just taking a step… he’s animated everybody, he’s caught them at their most, sort of, optimistic. With some kind of momentum in their lives.
“Especially when they give him a big smile back, it captures people at a very happy, forward-thinking movement.”
Foncie’s exhibit is – if I may say so – quite incredible, and also condensed. Overwhelming, but small. It’s a one-room knockout, featuring the man’s camera and all his evidence and artifacts.
Like Seidl says, he destroyed almost all of his negatives from that time, but he operated his business out of his family home. Their basement. Where would he store all those photos?
He was trying to run a business, she says. He needed people to buy his photographs because he needed to make a living, and he needed you to know there was an expiry date on your interest.
He also turned nobody away, because everyone had a face and everyone was worth the flash of his camera.
“I think his legacy is his portrait of the city during the mid-century,” she says. “He was a real democrat with his camera, he photographed everybody. Everyone was a potential customer.
“He was completely colour blind, in a way that I think a lot of photographers were not, in that time period.”
*Foncie’s Fotos exhibit runs at the Museum of Vancouver until January 5, 2014.
The Museum is also holding an exhibit called ‘Sex Talk and the City’ (*in the video above), which runs until September 2, 2013 and is a provocative display of one aspect of Vancouver’s history.
It’s the kind of exhibit most museums might not run, but that’s a point of pride for MOV and for its curators.
“Our mission statement is, that we hold a mirror up to the city and lead provocative conversations about its past, present, and future,” says Seidl.
“It’s a topic that museums probably wouldn’t touch or, if they touch it, they’d go all science on it. This isn’t science. This is the culture of sexuality in Vancouver.”