Alfred Bohn arrived in Montreal from a small town in Germany fifty-three years ago. He lived with his wife Hannelore in an apartment on Clark Street just above Prince Arthur, next to two other European couples. The six of them used to spent their free time wandering around the city, taking photos of their new home.
Bohns is now 78. Over the past four months, he has dredged up more than a hundred photos taken between 1958 and 60 and posted them on Flickr. Many were scanned from colour 35mm Kodachrome slides. Developing the slides back in the late 50s cost Bohns no small portion of the two dollars he earned every day working at a hatmaking shop on Mayor Street.
“We’d spend our days walking and walking because we didn’t have cars and we all lived in the same area and we all had empty jobs,” Bohns tells Kristian Gravenor, who has a brief but detailed account of Bohns’ adventures in photography at OpenFile.
Like other high-quality Kodachrome photos from the days before colour photography was common, Bohns’ images are a revelation. The grey landscape of the past is brought back to improbable life: fedoras and neon, housewives in long coats, lunch counters, factories that were still factories.
Bohns was not nearly as good a photographer as Fred Herzog, another German immigrant who documented his adopted city with the curiosity of a newcomer. But in a small way, like Herzog’s photos of 1950s and 60s Vancouver, Bohns’ Montreal is both familiar and markedly foreign.
Tags: Exploring the City, Montreal, Then and Now