Living In Toronto

Full Frontal T.O.

2013 Toronto Book Awards Finalist

For over thirty years, Patrick Cummins has been wandering the streets of Toronto, taking mug shots of its houses, variety stores, garages and ever-changing storefronts. Straightforward shots chronicle the same buildings over the years, or travel the length of a block, facade by facade. Other sections collect vintage Coke signs on variety stores or garage graffiti. Unlike other architecture books, Full Frontal T.O. (Coach House Books) looks at buildings that typically go unexamined, creating a street level visual history of Toronto. Full Frontal T.O. features over 400 gorgeous photos of Toronto's messy urbanism, with accompanying text by master urban explorer Shawn Micallef.

What the judges said

Photographer Patrick Cummins has assembled a compelling and fascinating time-lapse vision of Toronto streets. Accompanied by Shawn Micallef's always poignant and occasionally irreverent text, Full Frontal T.O. draws us into the streetscape that permeates our shared urban journey yet often remains unnoticed. Through his work, Cummins reminds us that Toronto is an evolving intertwining of varied lives and experiences. Opening this printed and bound time capsule is much like returning to one's hometown after a long absence.

The authors

Patrick Cummins

A graduate of the Ontario College of Art, Patrick Cummins has photographed aspects of Toronto's built environment since 1978. He has worked as an archivist with the City of Toronto since 1986, specializing in photographic, cartographic and architectural records. He has had work featured in several acclaimed photo exhibitions, and is represented in both private collections and in the permanent holdings of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. Photo credit: Karen Heath

Shawn Micallef

Shawn Micallef is the author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto and the co-editor of Spacing magazine. He teaches at the University of Toronto and the Ontario College of Art and Design, and was a 2011 12 Journalism Fellow at Massey College. He writes about cities, culture, architecture, art and politics, and has a weekly column in the Toronto Star. This fall, Shawn Micallef will be Writer in Residence at Toronto Public Library.
Photo credit: Beth Darbyshire

Excerpt from Full Frontal T.O.

The building at 140 Boulton Avenue is a perfectly Torontonian kind of building. It's the Toronto we know intimately because we walk by this house, and its analogues, all over the city, every day, but rarely pay them any attention; they really aren't very pretty. There 140 Boulton sits, squat, ramshackle and dishevelled like somebody who's been sleeping in the same clothes for days on the corner by busy Dundas Street, here little more than a traffic pipe for cars and bikes travelling between the east and west sides of the Don River. Few pay it any mind: it's just one of the thousands of nondescript buildings that make up the wallpaper of our city. Across the street is the Boulton Parkette. It's also the kind of parkette we like to keep here in Toronto: its dishevelledness matches number 140, with bits of trash blowing around, a rusting iron fence, a worn out lawn and some uneven interlocking brick. We don't do the Tuileries in Toronto; Paris can have that kind of finicky formal park space, our city seems to say, but we don't have time for such frivolity.

We can't see the first decades of 140 Boulton's life, but we can see how this one structure has, since 1980, morphed and adapted because Patrick Cummins wandered by one day with his camera, stood in front of it, took a picture, and returned over and over to do it again. Back in 1980, 140 was a residential house, or at least it appeared to be one. It had fake brick siding, the kind made out of the same rough material as roof shingles. There was a little front window with the blind drawn, a screen door with a newspaper stuck in the slightly fancy grillwork underneath a metal awning. The narrow strip of dirt between sidewalk and house was fenced in and a little garden appears to be tended to. It's summertime, perhaps early in the season as the foliage seems small, and the shadows are long and from the east. It's morning. Maybe that blind was about to go up and that paper read over a coffee. Toronto daily life carried on, the cars on Dundas went by, and only people like Cummins who pay attention to our in between spaces and places noticed.