As Ian MacEachern wandered through the slums of Saint John, New Brunswick in the mid-’60s, he had no idea he was laying the groundwork for what would become an iconoclastic, decades-long career in photography. A native of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, MacEachern had moved to New Brunswick when he was 20 to work as a cameraman for the local television station. He moonlighted as a photographer, searching for compelling scenes in Saint John’s ravaged North End, where homes and storefronts were being razed. Some were wrecked to make room for a bridge and highway, others demolished as part of a scheme of “urban renewal.” Those photos eventually became the backbone of The Lost City, John Leroux’s Maritime bestseller that detailed Saint John’s mid-20th-century reform.
Those daily pilgrimages motivated MacEachern to pursue photography full-time and, within a few years, to leave for Ontario to chase new opportunities. In 1967, on an afternoon touring Midland, Ontario, he ditched the backseat of a car stopped at a traffic light to snap a photo of two men chatting outside Hebner’s Taxi, a now-defunct taxi service. The picture, with its ten-cent newspapers and jukebox-styled vending machines dispensing Coca-Cola, crisply captures an era past. Today, the image is featured in museums, retrofitted onto Korean umbrellas and even splayed on an ashtray that his friend bought on eBay. “That picture, Hebner’s Taxi, took on a life of its own; the man’s shadow lined almost perfectly with the sidewalk to make it one in a million,” said MacEachern, who’s now 82. “There are some things you just cannot predict.”
MacEachern went on to work as a freelancer in Toronto and London and contributed to this magazine, as well as others like ArtsCanada, Time Canada and Chatelaine. Over the years, he taught community photography classes, took various contracts at CBC Toronto and relished street assignments that told a story. He once spent a week in the Prairies, driving more than 1,200 kilometres to cover Indigenous life on a reserve. He worked as a photographer on the Toronto-based CBC documentary show Man Alive, which explored topics as varied as the developing world, UFO sightings and sexual abuse. For his assignment, he documented life in mid-20th-century Cabbagetown, Toronto, where, historically, residents had planted and sold cabbages in their gardens. “I photographed Trefann Court for the CBC in the late ’60s. It still wasn’t as bad as the Saint John slums,” he says.
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MacEachern moved back to Saint John in 2020. This year, a collection of his raw photos, taken over the last six decades, are featured in the exhibit Black and White Is Like Radio, which runs until April 16 at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton. His pieces, street shots taken in Canada and beyond, are the product of a life behind the lens, and evoke social ironies and quirky settings—or, as he calls them, “wild moments in nature.”
Saint John, New Brunswick, 2019: “I shot this when I was moving back to Saint John. I had parked down the street with my realtor to look at houses. When I passed by this one, there was this creepy and mysterious head floating in the door window. I had to photograph it. There was lots of speculation that the face was a cut-out of Bob Marley. Only a couple of years ago, someone posted the exact same face on Facebook, and I recognized it: turns out, it was a famous photo of Miles Davis.”
Midland, Ontario, 1967: “I was in the backseat of a friend’s car and ran outside as we stopped in traffic to take this picture. It felt like perfect composition: the man’s shadow aligned almost perfectly with the sidewalk, everything around him was framed. It’s still one of the best pictures I’ve taken. Years later, I found my photo online: copied, bent into panels and made into an umbrella by some Korean company. My friend recently found it plastered on an ashtray. He bought it, and it’s now at the Beaverbrook below the actual photo. The image lasted longer than Hebner’s Taxi itself.”
London, Ontario, 2003: “I saw this huge inflatable gorilla, peeking behind a building in a subdivision. I think it was a gimmick, but all I thought was, That is a photo I cannot miss. Nowadays, you could easily use AI to replicate that shot: find a building and add a digital gorilla behind it. Back then, though, it was a surreal sight.”
London, Ontario, 2001: “I was driving in downtown London and saw a big protest that nearly blocked the busy Oxford-Wharncliffe intersection. I parked around the corner and walked toward the action. This woman holding a sign in front of her face is just a so-so picture; what makes it good is that the word “variety”—the opposite of chastity—is written on the right. I don’t think she was aware of that. I still am not sure what she was protesting. It was a quick moment that I didn’t have time to explore.”
London, Ontario, 2004: “I was on my way to Costco and drove past a large park just west of downtown London. In it was a quickly deflating, massive T. Rex hot-air balloon, so I stopped the car and ran out to take pictures. Kids gathered around the dinosaur as it fell slowly and, at that moment, it looked like they were about to be eaten. The T. Rex created a weird juxtaposition with the calmness around it. The composition also works: you’re drawn directly to the centre of the photo, where the kids and the dinosaur have a showdown.”
New Orleans, 2013: “The French Quarter has short driveways, like Saint John: stumble out of your door, take two steps and you’re on the street. I would come out of a building and see these Segways right away. I even saw police officers wheeling around on them. They’re so simple and fun to ride: you lean forward, you go faster. I wish I’d kept the photograph contained, because you can’t tell what these people are looking at. But there was no other way to take this photo—they were quickly on the move.”
London, Ontario, 2004: “This place was a secondhand shop in the east end of London. It was a tough area: there were lots of people smoking on the streets and in doorways. I wandered into the store anyway, because I knew it would make for a funny picture.”
New Orleans, 2013: “I was hanging out in a park near the French Quarter and saw this man walking with his Vietnamese pot-bellied pig—a popular pet in New Orleans. I couldn’t believe it: his posture was so much like the pig’s that they were even walking in step. I took several photos of this man, also because the doorways in the back created a nice counterbalance. This picture looks even stranger to people who aren’t from New Orleans—we’re not used to seeing domesticated pigs—but apparently they make great pets.”
London, Ontario, 1968: “Ex-Cell-O was a Detroit-based industrial manufacturer with a division in London, Ontario. I was hired to photograph the factory. It was a technical place: they made machines that made machines: engines, telephone connectors, gable-end milk cartons. The company even made guns that could be reconfigured for various purposes—carbines, machine guns, rifles. The irony is that Ex-Cell-O also sponsored the SS Hope, a repurposed hospital ship that travelled to war-torn places to provide medical support. I thought their economy was so strange: their guns would create new patients for those ships to save.”
Marigny, New Orleans, 2015: “I travelled to New Orleans just prior to Mardi Gras in 2015. On Frenchmen Street, in an area called the Marigny, clubs and bars line the roads, and krewes travel up and down them all dressed up in costumes around that time of year. I photographed that woman in particular because there was something about the intense look on her face. All of it stood in contrast with nearby Bourbon Street, a dangerous place to be, especially in the night.”