For Friday, here’s the second profile in a series on Lower Mainland transit enthusiasts — our first was on the Trans Vancouver bus photo archive.
Look up “Canada Line photos” in Google, and the first hit you’ll get is Canada Line Photography, an enormous repository of terrific photographs chronicling the train line’s construction.
There are two people behind the site, Tafyrn and Seamora Palecloud, who were kind enough to do an interview with me for the Buzzer blog. (And I did ask about their unusual names: Tafyrn just laughed, saying, “As you probably know, it’s good practice not to use our real names on the internet.”)
So, here’s the interview, and sprinkled throughout you’ll find some of the Canada Line photos that Tafyrn and Seamora consider favourites—they link back to related pages from the Canada Line photo blog, too.
Tafyrn, Seamora — thanks again so much for helping me put this together!
1. Tell me a bit about yourselves.
Well, Seamora is a student in Los Angeles, and I work for a company in Vancouver. We travel back and forth fairly frequently. We’ve both always been interested in transportation, so we’ve been able to follow the growth of the Canada Line and the Gold Line in L.A.
2. Do you have a site for the Gold Line too?
We don’t have as many Gold Line photos as those of the Canada Line, because we do most of our walking up in Vancouver. But we have easily taken 5,000-6,000 pictures of SkyTrain and other public transportation systems all over the continent. They are fascinating subjects for photography.
Another reason we decided not to put our Gold Line pictures up is that we didn’t catch it at the beginning, not like with the Canada Line.
3. How did you get started with the Canada Line photography blog?
We started the blog in late 2006. It was a combination of a couple of things. Seamora and I enjoy going for long walks—going down Cambie Street, seeing what’s going on. Every time you walk around, something’s new, and these large construction projects have fascinated us.
So, we took photos of the project and eventually realized we had several thousand photos specifically of the Canada Line, and we thought that other people might want to see them. Putting the photos on a blog seemed to work in a better way compared to sites like Flickr. It allowed us to organize the photos in a gallery for each major section of the project, and to post the photos chronologically. It took quite a few months to process all of our photos and backdate the entries.
On average, we put up five posts a week, although in winter it’s slowed down. It’s dark in the morning and in the evening, so the only times we get out to the site is weekends when we’re visiting or when I go out to get lunch. During the summer it’s much easier, as I can take photos on the way to work and back from work.
4. How do you decide what stations to photograph? Do you have a system?
We use transit quite extensively and our photos often follow the common routes we take. For example, we take the #100 bus out to the airport and stop at Marine Drive station to take pictures there. We also take the 98 B-Line down to Richmond centre and walk up No. 3 Road.
Ultimately, we focus on what’s changed, as walk the line fairly frequently, and there’s natural points where you take the photos from. You do tend to see the same angles from week to week and month to month, but it’s not really like time lapse photography. Actually, that’s something we would have liked to do — put an anchor point in on a railing and every week take a photo from that same spot. That would have made a really interesting movie. But once again, because this is opportunistic, we just take photos as we can.
I’ve also been successful in the past attending the tours through professional organizations that I am involved with. For example, I attended the unveiling ceremony for the trains – I was there with Cynthia Chen, who was a councillor with the city of Richmond at the time. We met at the OMC [Operation and Maintenance Centre] and I was invited to go in. I also attended the commissioning of the boring machine – Sweet Leilani. [Yes, that’s the actual name of the boring machine.] The building consortium painted it and they had a priest consecrate it with holy water. Being able to attend that event was a bit serendipitous. I was walking by the site at the time the group was coming in and I was invited to come in.
Unfortunately, I missed the recent batch of tours that were held. Because I’m not involved in the project in an official way, I don’t necessarily have notifications when these events are being held. I jump on the opportunities to tour the site as I find out about them, so if there are any upcoming events, I’d love to hear about them.
5. Is it easy to tell which one of you has taken which photos on the site?
Tafyrn & Seamora
We both take photos, and we both work on posting them. Often, we both take photos of different aspects of the line at the same time as we’re walking along. As we both use the same camera, and we have the same model, it isn’t really easy for us to tell. We both use a Contax SL300R.
It’s not an SLR, the model name just happens to have the same letters. It’s a small camera: you can easily carry it in your pocket. It has a small lens, though and doesn’t do night photography very well. We can’t take macro photos either, which would be useful when you want to focus on specific details of construction.
When we’ve had the opportunity to go into the tunnels, it is difficult to get good photos due to the lighting. For every underground photo we’ve posted, there were quite a few that were unusable because they were blurry or too dark. And we follow a general policy of not posting photos where the main focus is people. Leading up to the SkyTrain Unconference, I commented on a blog post about photography in general, describing my general guidelines.
It’s always a good idea to get permission. When we’ve been on tours outside publicly accessible areas, I always get permission before taking photographs. I’ve also talked with some of the fellows at SNC corporate, and they indicated that they didn’t want any photos used for commercial purposes. But that hasn’t been an issue, since this is just a hobby.
6. Why is there no text or commentary about the photos?
We deliberated on whether we should have written descriptive text as well as posting pictures. But seeing how it consumes a fair bit of time just to put them up, we decided that we’d let the photos speak for themselves.
As well, one thing that is very important to me is using the correct terminology. I work as a writer, so having the descriptions correct is very important. I’m reluctant to write without knowing the right technical terms to describe the photographs.
7. What kind of response does the site get?
We get very little feedback from people posting comments on our site itself. But many write about the photographs on web forums, such as the Skyscraper Page. A lot of the discussions tend to happen there.
With regard to statistics, there’s usually about 500 people who visit our site each month, and about 5,000 pageviews a month. There wasn’t much traffic until early 2007, and after that it’s been growing fairly linearly. In terms of absolutely unique visitors, we’ve had 24,000 visits, 5,300 unique visitors, and 60,000 page views. That’s over the whole lifetime of the blog. So, a lot of people have looked at it, and that validates our thoughts that others are interested in seeing the progress along the Canada Line.
8. Once Canada Line construction is done, will you keep posting?
Once the official opening happens, we’ll have fun going through the stations and taking photos from the inside. We’ll most likely post a couple thousand photos over the first week after it opens. But over time, we will stop posting. We try to avoid taking of pictures of the same thing, as they are redundant.
If we see something new, and do note that there are a couple potential future stations, if those start being built in some reasonable timeframe, we’ll keep it up. But ultimately this blog has a fixed life span. Perhaps the Evergreen Line will finally get to the construction phase and keep us busy.
9. You don’t really comment about it on your website, but what do you actually think of the Canada Line project?
We have our own personal opinions, but ultimately the way things are is the way things are. Lots of tradeoffs were made, and only time will tell about the balance between cost and capacity.
I definitely believe that the route was the right one, despite the disruptions. The construction groups did a great job in maintaining access and being as non-disruptive as possible. It’s hard with a project like this, which puts 80-foot deep open pits down the middle of a neighbourhood.
And I ultimately believe we are building a backbone for the community as a whole. I take SkyTrain every day to and from work. When you have good public transportation, you really don’t need to drive.
10. What do you hope people take away from the site?
If there’s a couple of things that people take away from the site, I hope they see that there is a history and a legacy behind the Canada Line, and that a large amount of effort went into building it. We take for granted the infrastructure we have. People often don’t think about all the work that went into building SkyTrain.
It’s going to be nice that these historical resources exist for people to look back at. Between our site and the Canada Line site, there’s some degree of archived visual history. In the past these projects haven’t tended to have that degree of public visibility, but we’re lucky that there now are inexpensive digital cameras and the Internet, which facilitate this sort of collective documentation of our world. There are so many people taking photos, and there are also the ones that the Canada Line site has published themselves. And on Flickr, there are thousands of photos tagged with the Canada Line, including some very remarkable ones.
It’s something we’re glad we’re able to share, and we look forward to posting more photos until the Canada Line is complete.