Louis Caron (1848-1917) founded an architectural dynasty that contributed more than 150 residences and ecclesiastical buildings to the Bois-Francs region of Québec, designed primarily in the Neo-Gothic style. Gothic Revival architecture in Canada was imported from Britain and endured until the 1930s. Victorian eclecticism, with its mansard roofs and fancy embellishments, also influenced the appearance of many towns, and can still be seen today.
In an attempt to identify one such building, which I photographed in 2009, I discovered both Louis Caron and what I still believe to be a little known online tool with lots of potential.
Google Search by Image provides an alternative to scouring the Internet for information via key words and text. You can start with a file of your own or choose one on the Web, then drag and drop, upload, right-click or paste a URL, depending on your needs.
Most of the images treat a similar subject, in this case, a building; if you plug in a picture of a red car, you’ll get mostly red cars parked in the same position. But then it gets more interesting. Looking at the examples, you’ll see that composition and geometry play a significant part, and that each picture has several such elements in common with others. Artists will connect with this immediately: strong perspective views, lighter fields of ‘sky’ or ‘ceiling’, squares, triangles, arches, and blocks of dark that contrast with the pallor of the overall image.
Finally, all of these images comes with a story: the Vietnamese village of 30 old French villas, a fleet of floating hotels on the Providence River, some Sci-fi guy who is building a model of a frontier power generator at a plasma plantation, a shop-front in the tiny Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, where the ratio of bookstores to residents is approximately 1:60… The possibilities for artists, authors and historians are literally endless.
Photo credit: Pierre Girouard
You may wonder at the usefulness of the resource, as it is fundamentally random, which is perhaps why Google hasn’t promoted it much. What would one use this for, exactly? Google suggests: “… if you search using a picture of your favorite band, you can find similar images, websites about the band, and even sites that include the same picture. Search by image works best when the image is likely to show up in other places on the web. So you’ll get more results for famous landmarks than you will for personal images like your latest family photo.”
But that’s not the reason I like it so much. It is playful and silly and rather purposeless - but not entirely. In my case, the tool saved me from having to sift randomly through archival photographs and historical sources online in the hopes of falling accidentally on a picture of a building for which I had no name, address or architect. And let's face it: Victoriaville, Québec, is not a major tourist destination - despite its many well-deserved (but lesser-known) claims to fame.
Search by Image does return a list of the instances of a specific image online, much like Reverse Image Search by TinEye, which can assist the user in tracing rights owners or infringements. But it also scans the content of the image using some kind of magical algorithm. And this produces results that will be pleasing to all types of users with infinitely diverse missions. At the very least, it is likely to quench one's curiosity about all those snapshots of unanswered questions that tend to rattle about in an avid traveller's luggage.
For me, its value is best described by the old adage: a picture is worth a thousand words... and it's why I now know my anonymous, iconic building to be the Grand Union Hotel, Victoriaville est. 1875, designed by the famed 19th century architect, Louis Caron. Set right beside a now defunct railroad, I can only imagine the action this place saw back in the day, when it must have been the swankiest inn in town.