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The east end’s Broadview Hotel is a building with a past. For three decades the late 19th-century property was home to Jilly’s—an infamous strip club that once hosted a live tiger as its main act. Upstairs, rooms were rented by the week at boarding house prices and with a boarding house level of concern for health and safety. In 2013, the building nearly collapsed (Jilly’s prioritized sightlines over a concern for load-bearing walls) and in 2014, it’s transformation into the new, design-forward, and structurally sound Broadview Hotel began. Five years later, The Broadview is undergoing another small transformation: the hotel has enlisted Toronto filmmaker and photographer Caitlin Cronenberg to tell a new, modern story about the building and the women who might walk through its doors.
We talked to Cronenberg about the new permanent exhibit at the Broadview Hotel, and about the statement that her photos and their female subjects will make in their new home.
Why choose the Broadview as a home for these specific photographs? Most of them were taken in cities like New York or London instead of Toronto—how do they tie into the hotel’s location and history?
Caitlin Cronenberg: It’s less about location and more about the subject matter. This building was once something very different, where women were not always treated with respect. Given that it’s transformed into this totally beautiful hotel, the collaboration came from my desire to show women in a different light. Especially because I’m a female Toronto-based artist who creates images of empowered women. I thought it would be a good way to flip the history of the building and say, ‘Well, we’ve already done this total reimagining of the space, now let’s put this art on the walls to show that.’
I fully support sex workers of all kinds. I have friends who are, I have friends who have been, and it’s absolutely your choice. The friends I have who have been strippers and escorts have been totally empowered by it. When they’re in control of their own career destiny, I 100% support it. [But] if you’re not the one who’s calling the shots for yourself, you may have been put in situations that have been uncomfortable.
When I shoot women we’re collaborating. They’re given the opportunity to express themselves, to show power or to show a vulnerable side. And so I love the idea of capturing those moments and putting them in a place [like the Broadview] where every range of emotion would have gone on in here. Every story would have been told here.
What do you think that the photos add to the space? What are people going to feel and think when they see them?
CC: I hope that people feel something. That’s the reason that I love photography and feel that it’s different than film. I come from a film family, I’ve worked in film and am looking to do more work in film. But there’s something about a photograph and it captures one specific moment and you only have the one frame to tell the story that you want to tell. And so I hope that when people see the images, they’re curious about what the story was or what I was trying to say with this.
Art is so subjective, you never know what someone is going to think. Not everybody loves everything and that’s absolutely fine. But I want to make sure that if someone is confronted with the piece and they’re actually looking at it, that they just think something or feel something. Whether it’s ‘I love this’, ‘I hate this’, or ‘I’m affected by this.’ I hope people don’t just walk by.
Maybe it’s just because I’m looking at them through the lens of a travel writer, but they evoke travel and movement for me. Were you thinking about that at all when you chose the pieces to be exhibited in a hotel?
CC: I think because they’re less fashion photographs and more like stolen moments from these stories that we’ve created, I think that kind of helps feel like you’re in the middle of a story rather than maybe being stalled in a moment. So I love that you said that. It’s a great take.
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Do you think the Toronto is fertile ground for a photographer or even a casual photographer travelling to Toronto?
CC: I do. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m born and raised. My parents were both born and raised here. So it’s a big part of my upbringing and the way that I feel about the world is very Toronto-focussed. I’ve noticed such a change in the last ten years of working here — the city has turned into a very supportive art city for film and fashion and photography.
I feel very supported here with the talent that I can get in terms of makeup artists, stylists, and staff. If you want to take pictures of beautiful, natural landscapes, maybe this isn’t necessarily your destination in Canada. You’re not going to see the same kind of things you’re going to see in BC or in PEI. But in terms of just actually being supported with crews and with talent, I definitely find everything I need here.
I’m sure everyone asks you about the Drake album cover, but you really do deserve some credit for putting Toronto as a city on the map for making that image.
CC: It’s very cool to see that roll out and to see, like, Jimmy Fallon holding up the image and being like, ‘It’s the CN Tower!’ It’s the thing that you look at your entire childhood and you’d go up there and you’d do the stair climb and go to the rotating restaurant on your birthday. It’s just this thing that we stare at, we associate it with our city, but to see the world take it on and sort of celebrate it and to see Drake continually celebrate being from here… It ended up being such a powerful shot. The day that [album] came out everything was blowing up and I was like, ‘This is not my reality!’
Would you say that there’s a specific space in this hotel that’s an amazing backdrop for a photo—like, if someone was a guest who was coming to stay here from somewhere else?
CC: I would say the rooftop. You get really great downtown city views and it’s not too built up down here yet. You still have the ability to see out over houses in the neighbourhoods and the more industrial areas. If you wanted to take a great shot, hit the Broadview rooftop.
If you’re hosting a friend who’s not from here, where do you take them?
CC: If you’re basing it purely on aesthetics, you want to be surrounded by beauty. So it depends if you’re looking for like an urban beauty situation or a natural beauty situation. High Park is really beautiful. There are trails but you feel like you’re in a forest. The thing I love the most about the city is that there are so many different neighbourhoods and you can find city vibes and then you can also find these kind of stately, vintage Victorian-feeling vibes. I’ve shot a lot down Commissioners and Cherry St. and even though it’s becoming built up, I like the industrial feel down there. And Scarborough Bluffs, unbelievable. I can’t believe that we have that. It’s gorgeous… There are some real gems all over the city.