Originally published at: Pluralistic: Portraits of Queen West (13 Sept 2023) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
- Portraits of Queen West: Kevin Steele's "sequential art" book of the glory days of Queen Street West.
- Hey look at this: Delights to delectate.
- This day in history: 2008, 2013, 2018, 2022
- Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current writing projects, current reading
Portraits of Queen West (permalink)
Portraits of Queen West is Kevin Steele's extraordinary photo-book, a work of "sequential art" featuring time- and space-series of a single – rather glorious – stretch of Toronto's Queen Street West:
Steele himself is as extraordinary as his book. I first ran into him through Mackerel Multimedia, the pioneering Canadian multimedia shop that he co-founded in the early 1990s – one of those art-school kids who discovered the Mac, fell in love with the radical possibilities of digital art, and changed the world:
Steele's pioneering work – in Hypercard, then CDROMs, then Flash – helped define the look-and-feel of the old, good internet; an urbanist feel that owed a debt to Toronto's most beloved adopted urbanist, Jane Jacobs. Steele and Mackerel made things that were beautiful and human-centered, human-scaled and human-adaptable.
Not for nothing, Hypercard presaged the web's critical "view source" affordance, which allowed people to copy, modify, customize and improve on the things that they found delightful or useful; this affordance was later adapted by other human-centered projects like Scratch, and is a powerful tonic against enshittification.
Mackerel didn't survive the first great multimedia mass-extinction, but it launched the careers of a whole generation of talented web-writers and builders, and not just its former employees, but also the millions who were touched by its work.
I haven't seen Steele in person in decades, but I follow his work – not as a multimedia artist, but as an urban photographer. Kevin and I follow each other on Flickr – the once great and great again photo-sharing site that survived decades of abuse from Yahoo and Verizon before being taken indie and rescued by the Smugmug folks.
Back in November 2010, Kevin started posting photos of individual storefronts on Queen Street West to Flickr. They were painstakingly labeled and dated, and they multiplied. By the end of the year, there were a couple dozen of them:
A year later, there were hundreds:
Today, there are over 1,200 of these:
Now, I know Queen Street West very well. It was once one of Toronto's most bohemian neighborhoods, where my paternal grandfather's fellow refugee Benny Yacht has his schmata shop and where my maternal grandfather took my mother and her siblings to trade in their comics for credit at cramped, crammed used bookstores.
I discovered Queen West as a pre-teen, thanks to Bakka Books – now Bakka Phoenix – the oldest science fiction bookstore in the world. I haunted Bakka, and, on the way, found myself drawn into the other stores around it:
There was Silver Snail, a massive comics shop, but a bounty of used bookstores, vintage clothing stores, thrift shops, the indescribably great electronics store Active Surplus and, later, nightclubs like the Rivoli, the Diamond, the Bovine Sex Club and the Zoo Bar.
For a critical decade of my life and more, the stretch of Queen Street that Steele obsessively documented in his Flickr feed had been the center of my life. I watched it thrive and grow – and then collapse into a kind of self-parody, as the original landlords (like Bakka's landlord) died, and their failsons and faildaughters kicked out longstanding tenants and replaced them with multinational "brands" that turned Queen West into a less-convenient, open-air version of the sterile Eaton Centre mall.
Steele, it turns out, was having similar feelings of dismay as the organic, grown, chaotic delight became groomed, sterile and homogenized. After a 2008 fire wiped out an entire block of Queen West – including Duke's Cycle, a city institution that eventually shuttered after more than a century of service – Steele began his documentation project.
Steele had started documenting the street in 2001, but that fire turned a hobby into a project. Over and over again, Steele returned to the street, meticulously photographing the same storefronts, capturing a time-series that eventually spanned 16 years, from 2001-2017. Steele gradually stitched these photos together into panoramic collages, reproducing whole blocks:
It is these "linear panoramas" that form the backbone of Portraits of Queen West. The book runs 162 pages, and it meant to be read forwards and backwards – start from the front cover and turn the pages to see the north side of the street, along with insets showing details (like the storied Graffiti Alley), and then flip the book over and start again, seeing the south side.
For more than a decade, I've thrilled to my unexpected trips through Steele's time-machine, as he posted his space-and-time-series images of a vanished urbanism, an old, good city that paralleled the old, good web. I got a peek at a PDF of the new book that collects these extraordinary image and immediately pre-ordered a copy.
Steele and his publisher Black Eye Books are crowdfunding presales of the book on Crowdfundr; the hardcover is CAD40 with shipping (there's also a deluxe edition at CAD55, which comes with a signed bookplate and six postcards):
After a string of ghastly mayors – each finding new depths of depravity, selfishness and mismanagement to plumb – Toronto just elected its first progressive mayor in a generation, the wonderful Olivia Chow, for whom I used to ring doorbells support of her city council campaigns:
Anything that can't go on forever eventually stops. The enshittification of the old, good web continues apace, but there has never been more energy to build a new, good internet – and banish the enshitternet of Big Tech to the scrapheap of history.
In the same way, Toronto's much eroded urbanism, pluralism and liveability are both at their lowest ebb in my lifetime – and also at their most hopeful moment of the century. In 1998, the dead-eyed Romneyoid Premier of Ontario Mike Harris "amalgamated" Toronto with its suburbs, putting it at the mercy of car-addled out-of-towners in an act of gerrymandering that all-but-guaranteed that city residents' political choices would be swamped by suburbanites who could be convinced to vote for laughable Tory bumblefucks like Rob Ford.
Overcoming the gerrymander required a massive turnout – not merely a supermajority, but an ultramajority of politically motivated, organized, committed, pissed off Torontonians; Chow's election is a minor miracle that part of the wave of other historic reversals, like the DoJ awakening from its coma to drag Google into court on antitrust charges.
We are a long way away from making a new, good internet that's a worthy successor to the old, good internet, and at least as far from a new, good Toronto that the people of the old, good Toronto would have built but for Tory wreckers and the Christmas-voting turkeys who elevated them to office. But both are possible – and both demand that we fight for them.
Steele's beautiful photodocumentary of one slice of that old, good city doesn't just memorialize the world we lost – it is inspiration for a world that is ours to win.
Hey look at this (permalink)
- Revealed: The Country that Secretly Wiretapped the World for the FBI https://www.404media.co/revealed-the-country-that-secretly-wiretapped-the-world-for-the-fbi/ (spoiler: Lithuania)
Celebrating Ten Years of the Marrakesh Treaty https://www.copyright.gov/events/marrakesh-treaty-tenth-anniversary/ (h/t Proton411)
Gilead Delayed Introduction Of New Version of HIV Drug, With Fewer Side Effects, Maximizing Its Patent Monopoly And Profits https://www.techdirt.com/2023/09/11/gilead-delayed-introduction-of-new-version-of-hiv-drug-with-fewer-side-effects-maximizing-its-patent-monopoly-and-profits/
This day in history (permalink)
#15yrsago Little Brother in the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/books/review/Grossman-t.html
#15yrsago Mounties review Tasers, conclude that they’re dangerous, misused and under-researched https://web.archive.org/web/20080917202538/http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2008/09/12/taser-review.html
#15yrsago Mom accused of stealing daughter’s identity to attend highschool and become a cheerleader https://web.archive.org/web/20080916071716/http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5ipppcZU-H4xC9lQiAOQFSF-cfrdAD935H3G80
#15yrsago DHS: HOWTO stop (other governments’) creepy spooks from reading your hard drive and email https://web.archive.org/web/20080913005403/http://secure.wikileaks.org/wiki/US_DHS:_Foreign_Travel_Threat_Assessment:_Electronic_Communications_Vulnerabilities_2008
#10yrsago Feynman lectures as HTML https://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/I_toc.html
#10yrsago David Cameron appoints a Witchfinder General for copyright https://torrentfreak.com/uk-prime-minister-appoints-new-anti-piracy-enforcement-advisor-130913/
#10yrsago Google’s lobbyists go big on climate change denial, raise money for Inhofe & Competitive Enterprise Insitute https://memex.craphound.com/2013/09/13/googles-lobbyists-go-big-on-climate-change-denial-raise-money-for-inhofe-competitive-enterprise-insitute/
#10yrsago Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel apologizes for decades of police torture https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2013/0912/Chicago-Mayor-Rahm-Emanuel-apologizes-for-two-decades-of-police-torture
#10yrsago Why fingerprints make lousy authentication tokens https://www.independent.co.uk/tech/iphone-5s-thieves-may-mutilate-owners-in-bid-to-gain-access-to-fingerprintreading-handsets-expert-warns-8808577.html
#10yrsago Porno copyright trolls Malibu Media sanctioned by court for “extortionate” tactic https://www.techdirt.com/2013/09/11/copyright-troll-malibu-media-sanctioned-bogus-copyright-abuse-intimidation-tactic/
#10yrsago EFF’s guide to NSA reform bills https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/08/effs-cheat-sheet
#10yrsago Doomed to repeat history: Kafkaesque FBI watchlist screwups of the 1940s https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2013/sep/11/tale-two-irvings-mistaken-identity-height-red-scar/
#10yrsago Cognitive blind-spots of Silicon Valley successes http://quarry.stanford.edu/xapm1111126lse/docs/02_LSE_Cognitive.pdf
#5yrsago Mandalay Bay to mass-shooting survivors: we’ll donate $500 to charity if you stipulate that we’re suing you https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-biz-mgm-las-vegas-lawsuit-donation-20180911-story.html
#5yrsago This is the golden age of Chinese science fiction https://www.scmp.com/culture/books/article/2093892/science-fictions-new-golden-age-china-what-it-says-about-social
#5yrsago Europe just voted to wreck the internet, spying on everything and censoring vast swathes of our communications https://memex.craphound.com/2018/09/12/europe-just-voted-to-wreck-the-internet-spying-on-everything-and-censoring-vast-swathes-of-our-communications/
#5yrsago Sony: OK, OK, we don’t own Bach https://www.eff.org/takedowns/sony-finally-admits-it-doesnt-own-bach-and-it-only-took-public-pressure
#5yrsago Machine learning scientist quits Google over plan to launch censored Chinese search tool https://theintercept.com/2018/09/13/google-china-search-engine-employee-resigns/
#5yrsago Charter, ordered out of New York State, begs for its life https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/09/charter-negotiating-with-ny-to-avoid-being-kicked-out-of-the-state/
#5yrsago 20% of New York retail space is sitting vacant https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/09/06/nyregion/nyc-storefront-vacancy.html
#5yrsago Viral road-rage video sparks mob violence in Beijing, revealing deep regional rifts https://www.whatsonweibo.com/fury-and-loathing-in-fengtai-how-one-incident-sparked-chaos-in-beijing-neighbourhood/
#5yrsago Six years ago, North Carolina Republicans passed a law decreeing that the seas weren’t rising https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/12/north-carolina-didnt-like-science-on-sea-levels-so-passed-a-law-against-it
#5yrsago How anarchist organizers in rural Puerto Rico rebooted their power grid after the privatized power company abandoned them https://www.newsweek.com/puerto-ricans-restore-power-after-hurricane-maria-1114070
#5yrsago “Spread Pricing” transparency reveals the millions CVS rakes in by gouging Medicare and prisons on prescription markups https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-drug-spread-pricing/
#5yrsago Trade negotiators are increasingly unwilling to entertain “corporate sovereignty” clauses https://www.techdirt.com/2018/09/13/corporate-sovereignty-wane-as-governments-realize-more-trouble-than-worth/
#1yrago Survival of the Richest: Douglas Rushkoff on the eschatology of libertarian exit https://pluralistic.net/2022/09/13/collapse-porn/#collapse-porn
#1yrago Spotify steals from artists, a Spotify exclusive https://pluralistic.net/2022/09/12/streaming-doesnt-pay/#stunt-publishing
Today's top sources:
- A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025
The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024
Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION
Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM
Latest podcast: The Internet Con: How to Seize the Means of Computation (audiobook outtake) https://craphound.com/news/2023/08/01/the-internet-con-how-to-seize-the-means-of-computation-audiobook-outtake/
- EFF Awards (San Francisco), Sept 14
DIG Festival (Modena, Italy), Sept 22
Launch for "The Internet Con" and Brian Merchant's "Blood in the Machine," Chevalier's Books (LA), Sept 27
An Evening with VE Schwab (Boise), Oct 2
Wired Nextfest (Milano), Oct 7-8
26th ACM Conference On Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing keynote (Minneapolis), Oct 16
Seizing the Means of Computation (Edinburgh Futures Institute), Oct 25
- Sci-fi and Amazon's empire (The Workers' Speculative Society)
An Audacious Plan to Halt the Internet's Enshittification and Throw It Into Reverse (Defcon 31)
Life Doesn’t Have to Zuck (Bungacast)
- The Internet Con: A nonfiction book about interoperability and Big Tech (Verso) September 2023 (http://seizethemeansofcomputation.org). Signed copies at Book Soup (https://www.booksoup.com/book/9781804291245).
"Red Team Blues": "A grabby, compulsive thriller that will leave you knowing more about how the world works than you did before." Tor Books http://redteamblues.com. Signed copies at Dark Delicacies (US): and Forbidden Planet (UK): https://forbiddenplanet.com/385004-red-team-blues-signed-edition-hardcover/.
"Chokepoint Capitalism: How to Beat Big Tech, Tame Big Content, and Get Artists Paid, with Rebecca Giblin", on how to unrig the markets for creative labor, Beacon Press/Scribe 2022 https://chokepointcapitalism.com
"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone technothriller for adults. The Washington Post called it "a political cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1840/Available_Now%3A_Attack_Surface.html
"How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a solution. https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism-8135e6744d59 (print edition: https://bookshop.org/books/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capitalism/9781736205907) (signed copies: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2024/Available_Now%3A__How_to_Destroy_Surveillance_Capitalism.html)
"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p1750/July%3A__Little_Brother_%26_Homeland.html
"Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Order here: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed copy here: https://www.darkdel.com/store/p2682/Corey_Doctorow%3A_Poesy_the_Monster_Slayer_HB.html#/.
- The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023
The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024
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