Two years after its 1910 launch, The Toronto Star Weekly stepped up its city content and graphic look to compete with local competitor the Sunday World. It pulled ahead in the weekend paper sweepstakes in part by using the visual language and marketing strategies of its advertisers. Critical to the presentation of news as visual entertainment was the image of “the girl”.
This was demonstrated in the Illustrated Section of the February 17, 1912 edition with two side by side photographs. Typically this all-photo section led with images of world events that had marked the week. Sprinkled among these, and also grouped under a thematic title in following pages, readers could see snapshots of famous as well as run-of-the-mill local people in different leisure pursuits.
Captioned “Enter the Camera Girl” and“We Are the Toronto Girls” the lead photos symbolized youth and beauty. These and the surrounding snapshots of the co-ed recreation scene in a local park defined a photo genre that became a staple of Toronto’s weekend papers.
The snow-shoeing “Toronto Girls” would have been read as emblems of popular opposition to toboggan runs remaining open on “the Lord’s Day”, Sunday. In a debate that divided the city, the Citizen’s Committee published a proclamation in the Star arguing that sleighing and tobogganing, along with other forms of outdoor recreation in public parks, were essential to the quality of life for the working class that did not have access to costly sports equipment and facilities.
More generally, the Girls stood for chaperone-free leisure enjoyed thanks to the high numbers of adolescent girls and single women who could choose how they used their time away from factory, store or office. While their unsupervised presence on the city’s streets was problematic, in the natural setting of the city’s parks they embodied wholesome beauty linked to free-wheeling fun.
In the climate of concern over promiscous behavior Star Weekly readers would have looked at the action shots of park activity with concern. Seen pressed close to men as they slid and skied down the slopes or with limbs intertwined in a heap at the bottom of the toboggan run, girls were perceived one moment as paragons of feminine health and the next as young tarts.
Enter the Camera Girl
The photo captioned “Enter the Camera Girl” heralds a marketing campaign by Canadian Kodak Ltd. Targeted at women with the caption: many “snaps” are obtained without the knowledge of the subjects, the promotional image inserted within the Star Weekly’s Illustrated Section stressed the power offered by light weight camera to discretely capture candid views of others in public space.
The company’s Trade Circular to Canadian dealers showcased the promotional elements for its “vest pocket camera” campaign that included streetcar signs and lantern slide images for projection in movie theatres. The campaign’s use of the verb “snap-shooting” stressed the view of photography as an active sport.
The KODAK message was that women could go back and forth from the front of the camera lens to the back where they were in control of the image. The marketing, featuring restrained, neatly sports-clothes clad young models appealed to educated middle class young women eager to explore new territory.
The Star Weekly and KODAK had a mutual interest in reminding readers of seasonal activity—the former to sell papers by documenting what was “trending” in leisure time fashion and activities, the latter to remind consumers to buy camera and film before the fleeting pleasures of the season had passed.
A summer version of “Camera Girl”, captioned “KODAK Girl” was published in the Star Weekly’s General Section as part of photo-illustrated feature on the social scene at Toronto Islands.
Picturing the female “snap-shooters” in the act of pressing the shutter, the Star Weekly reinforced the KODAK campaign’s central theme: photography was part of outdoor fun. By inserting the vignettes of young women shooting as a part of their social pleasure in the park the paper also echoed the company’s regular reminders to female consumers that they were custodians of vacation and excursion memories.
Girl Icons of Recreation – Star Weekly Amateur Photo Competition
Extending its typical focus on pictorial landscape photography the Star Weekly Amateur photo competition invited subscribers to send in entries depicting “Pretty Girls at Summer Resorts”. The judge’s comments alongside the winning entry titled “Happy Tree” praised the subject’s pose, the choice of setting and technical skill of the photographer and added, “The young lady is certainly prepossessing in appearance.”
Second prize was awarded to “Balmy Beach Beauties” a “selfie” of the photographer with two companions sporting a cheeky attitude. In contrast to the languidly elegant young woman leaning against the tree these were the “girls next door” identified by their middle class neighborhood as much as their ease with self-presentation for the camera.
Playing both to readers who would admire her as much as to others who would be horrified, the Star Weekly through an extended caption invited judgement on the wearer of “the most revealing bathing suit to be seen on Toronto’s beaches” in the summer of 1913. Was Miss Harris’ eagerness to demonstrate her love of sport and comfort with her body exploited by the Star Weekly photographer?
MISS MBE HARRIS THE FIRST GIRL TO WEAR THE ONEPICE BATHING SUIT AT TORONTO ISLAND.
On the first day that she appeared on the beach at Hanlan’s Point in her one piece suit, Miss Harris was seen by an alert Star Weekly photographer and snapped as she came out of the water. The young lady was not at all offended, and that explains why we got these three fine poses of her later on. She is the daughter of Mr. P.C. L. , the well-known official of the Toronto Humane Society. He quite approves of his daughter’s costume as a sensible one for swimming. It is whispered that of late the other girls at the Island are wearing similar suits—under the cover of darkness. “Some of them professed to be disgusted at my costume,” said Miss Harris to The Star Weekly, “but most of my critics are not blessed with good enough figures to wear the one-piece garment, and that’s what I tell them. But really, I don’t see how women can swim with water soaked skirt clinging to them like so much dead weight. It certainly is not sensible.” For ten years Miss Harris has followed aquatics, and even sails her own dinghy on Toronto Bay. She says she has never had an accident. Miss Harris with her family, has gone to Muskoka for a couple of weeks holiday outing. M.B.E. are Miss Harris’ initials and she is called “Mbe” by all her friends.