Photography book frames Toledo’s past to highlight present

September 15, 2016 | Features, Research, UToday, Library
By Vicki L. Kroll

Guts — that’s what Ben Morales needed to get some of the photos for Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time.

There’s a shot of the Glass City’s iconic Anthony Wayne Bridge.

Hindsight-cover“Traffic never seems to slow on that bridge, and I had to walk out to the median. There really isn’t a place to stand; I had to straddle the cement median as traffic was whizzing by close to me,” he recalled.

And the Capital Tire & Rubber Co. building at the corner of Cherry Street and Spielbusch Avenue in downtown Toledo.

“I tried several times to get the photo, but I could never bring myself to walk out into the intersection because there was always traffic. And finally on my fourth or fifth attempt, I just went out and had some cars honking at me, and it was quite terrifying. And when I was leaving the intersection, I dropped my keys, so I had to run out there again and get them. 

“It literally only took me 10 seconds to get the shot. It probably took me 10 minutes to get the courage to walk out there,” Morales said and laughed.

He waded into the cold, rushing Maumee River for a photo of Roche de Boeuf and Interurban Bridge in Waterville. 

UT’s University Hall is one of nearly 100 locations featured in Ben Morales’ "Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time."

UT’s University Hall is one of nearly 100 locations featured in Ben Morales’ “Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time.”

“Thankfully, my friend loaned me waders,” Morales said. “I needed to go into the river for the correct alignment for that shot.”

Perspective is critical for Hindsight, which features historical black-and-white photos that Morales held and lined up in front of the same locations to take new seamless shots that meld time.

It all started four years ago when the graphic designer was working at a local ad agency and was looking for inspiration for the “You Are Here Toledo” project. He searched for an old photo of the Washington Street Bridge.

“I found a really nice old shot of the bridge and, along with that, I found a lot of old shots of the Toledo area that I’d never seen before,” Morales said. “I was just kind of amazed by the richness of Toledo’s history and how interesting it looks and how different it looks, but at the same time, we could still see a glimpse of that today that I hadn’t really taken notice of until then.”

Something compelled him to print out a couple of the black-and-white shots. He cut out the images of the former Key Bank on Madison Avenue and a shot looking down Madison and tucked them into his pocket. 

Mancy's Steakhouse on Phillips Avenue

Mancy’s Steakhouse on Phillips Avenue

“On my lunch break, I was just walking around downtown and thought it would be cool to go to the actual locations and compare and contrast — look at the photo compared to how it looked in real life,” he said. “So I took the opportunity to walk to those locations and do my best to line them up, and I took my first shots with my old iPhone 4.”

Then he posted the photo of the old-timey snapshot framed in the present on Instagram.

“The photos got a really resounding response, and people suggested more locations,” Morales said. “I thought it would be interesting to try to see if I could find more of these photos and continue it as a series.”

Arjun Sabharwal, associate professor and digital initiatives librarian in Carlson Library, was a fan of Morales’ work on Toledo Rephotography on Instagram at #toledorephotography.

Morales book signing box“What is particularly compelling is how Ben’s work combines new technology with history,” Sabharwal said. “The time, effort and imagination lends his book seriousness, credibility and originality.”

A history buff who helps manage Toledo’s Attic website, Sabharwal recalled three years ago when northwest Ohio’s virtual museum invited the public to contribute Instagram shots tagged #toledosattic: “By the time the contributions exceeded 2,000 images, the experiment had morphed into a publicly curated exhibition representing local history through the public eye. Ben’s work was truly a gem from the outset.”

He mentioned Morales’ cool project to Barbara Floyd, interim director of University Libraries and director of the UT Press.

Toledo, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Bridge over the Maumee River

Toledo, Lake Erie and Western Railroad Bridge over the Maumee River

“I felt that Ben’s photography was so original in concept that it deserved a larger audience,” Floyd, director of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections, said. “And because his work is focused on images from northwest Ohio, it seemed like a perfect fit with the mission of the UT Press. We have found that photography books featuring local images are very popular, such as the book of photographs of rock and blues stars performing in Toledo taken by John Rockwood that we published last year.”

Floyd added, “I love the way you can almost walk into history through Ben’s photos.”

Photos and historical information on The University of Toledo, Ohio Theatre, Toledo Zoo, Holy Rosary Cathedral, Oliver House, Toledo Museum of Art, Side Cut Metropark, and other landmarks are included in the 145-page book.

“The Valentine Theatre, particularly with Houdini hanging from the top of the façade, is probably my favorite photo because I love Houdini and it fascinates me that he was even in Toledo let alone hanging by a chain with a straitjacket on,” Morales said.

That stunning shot also is a favorite of Yarko Kuk, managing editor of the UT Press, who helped track down historical information included in the book and arranged access for Morales to take some photos.

“Ben went to great lengths to create thoughtful then and now photographs,” Kuk said. “We really tried to capture the sense of a bygone era and the history that surrounds us.”

“There’s just something about old photos — there’s just sort of a haunting beauty behind them,” Morales mused.

Hindsight: Northwest Ohio Through the Lens of Time is $39.95 and available online at, as well as at Rockets Bookstore, 3047 W. Bancroft St., and Gathering Volumes, 196 E. South Boundary St., Perrysburg.

“The past is all around us, but we don’t always notice it because it is often tucked away in between modern structures, and it may not be quite as visible as it once was,” Morales said. “I want people to be able to see, notice and appreciate the beauty of the past and take ownership of it.”

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