Shooting Boston’s Seaport District with a Contax TVS Digital

Shooting Boston’s Seaport District with a Contax TVS Digital

1838 1035 James Tocchio

When I first began photographing the city as a college kid some fifteen years ago, a visit to Boston’s Seaport District was exciting in all the wrong ways. The abandoned warehouses were crumbling into the earth, itself crumbling into the sea. The rusted scaffolds of the shipyards twisted into the briny sky like the splayed ribs of an elephant graveyard. If I ended the photo walk with two or three striking shots of the industrial-noir wasteland, I was happy. All the better if I didn’t get tetanus, bitten by a rat, or mugged, stabbed, and tossed into the harbor. Back then, the place really was a hellhole.

But in a press conference in 2010, mayor Menino mumbled his plan to revitalize the area. New transportation infrastructure was added (the Silver Line of the MBTA would provide public transport) and the scenic Boston Harborwalk was extended to run along the north side of the Seaport. 1,000 acres of the waterfront was redeveloped as an “Innovation District,” a regional hub for burgeoning industries such as clean tech, bio-chem, and health care IT.

It worked. In 2014, the area was described as “the hottest, fastest-growing real estate market in the country.” By 2017, the Seaport District boasted 78 restaurants, 8 hotels, and more than 1,100 housing units.

Yesterday, I revisited the Seaport, this time with my wife and kids. The transformation was stunning.

Everything was new. The streets weren’t just clean, but freshly paved with geometrically pleasing block work like I’d not seen since I visited Tokyo. Sleek, glass towers rose into fluffy clouds where abandoned cranes once listed against an overcast sky. The sounds of summer were carried along on a sweet breeze. Young sun worshipers lifted their faces under an azure sky. Live music carried with it the scent of outdoor dining. Families loving life and each other. We even saw (I kid you not) a marriage proposal. Moments after the heartwarming clapping trickled away, a Lamborghini’s motor roared through the canyons of glittering mirrors.

“Holy shit.” I said the swear quietly, so the kids wouldn’t hear. “This place has changed.”

My wife had never visited the Seaport during its squalid era. She asked what I meant. I explained, prefacing with the caveat that I’m kind of an idiot and don’t know much about anything.

“I remember this place being a total dump.” I said. “The last time I was here I watched a cop get mugged by six rats in a trench coat. The air smelled like dead fish and a bucket of nails. Now look at it.” I pointed to the three Lexuses parked alongside a perfectly manicured public garden, upon the lawn of which lounged a few dozen smartly-dressed young people drinking bubbly liquid out of crystal flutes. Everyone was smiling and gorgeous, with taut skin and perfect teeth. “Nothing but yuppie scum!”

She logged her disapproval of my prejudice against yuppie scum with a sideways glance. For the record, I don’t truly dislike anyone, not even yuppie scum. While I freely admit that conspicuously wealthy people irk me, I don’t really mean to pick on them. I just find immense pleasure in the phrase yuppie scum.

We walked on, stopping momentarily at the foot of a residential tower, all glass and Mithril silver like something from Tolkien’s elves. In the windows of the foyer floated framed monitors displaying listings for the apartments within, their amenities and pricing. $1.2 million, $2.6 million, $4.0 million. I gawped at the listing for one particularly luxurious rental unit and its price, a staggering $17,000 per month.

Per month!

After some time, I closed my mouth, blinked, turned to my family, and said the only words that came to mind. “Anyone want ice cream?”

At least my camera looked the part. Or it might have in 2002. Because I was using the Contax TVS Digital, a luxurious, expensive, stylish point-and-shoot digital camera capable of recording images at a stunning resolution of five point two megapixels.

We published an article last year about the growing popularity of Digicams, digital point-and-shoot cameras from the late ’90s and early ’00s. About a year later, The New York Times copied us and published a similar (though worse) article. It’s always nice to see a small publication find their voice.

I reviewed the Contax TVS Digital even before that, way back in 2019, and even then I predicted that we’d see a massive surge in the popularity of early digital point-and-shoots. Hey, maybe I do know something after all?

And so, today’s literary stroll will not be a camera review. I won’t list the specs, nor compare the titanium shelled Contax TVS Digital to its contemporary models. And readers searching for the history of Contax and the details of the Kyocera years will need to look elsewhere. I won’t even allow myself a sentence about the Contax T series‘ proclivity toward sapphire shutter release buttons, though it kills me to hold back.

I won’t mention how thrilled I was to discover that the Contax TVS Digital has an in-camera black-and-white shooting mode, nor how amazing it is at creating surprisingly striking images with deep shadows and well-retained highlights. I won’t compare it to Fujifilm’s film simulation modes. I won’t bring up the frustrations of the camera’s incredibly slow startup, nor its interminable read/write times as it saves and displays shot photos.

No, I won’t talk about the camera. Even though I want to, because I love its sing-song warble when I turn it on, I love the Game Boy quality sound effects that squeal from its insides when it locks focus and the delightfully fake shutter release sound it makes when I press the shutter release button, which – did you know? – is a synthetic sapphire?

I’ll hold back my gushing and simply share the photos, and bring you along as my beautiful wife and my lovely children enjoyed a stroll through Boston’s North End, down toward the waterfront, over the bridge, and into the new, revitalized seaport, where we wove through and amongst the filthy rich and the young and the beautiful, and where we stood in line for half an hour for the privilege of buying Japanese ice cream served in a warm, fish-shaped waffle, and where we held hands along the pristine harbor front walkways, and where we poked into a store that sells cupcakes made exclusively for dogs.

If that’s not gentrification, I don’t know what is.

But I do know that days like yesterday are why I love cameras and photography. I went to a place to see new things. I saw them, and I shot them with a neat camera. I shared the day with my family, made a few decent photos. In a perfect world we should all be so lucky.

[The gallery in this article contains images from the Seaport, as well as shots from Boston’s North End and other places where we spent our day, all made with the Contax TVS Digital in its black-and-white photo mode.]

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • That lens is so sharp. The black and white is great. Makes me want to shoot 100 bnw in my Fujifilm Tiarall for comparison. Thanks.

  • I enjoyed these photos and your sense of humor. I like that you shot in B&W too. I have recently switched completely to B&W because of the cost of color film. I may head to this area as well to explore as I don’t live that far from where you live (Hingham) making me even closer to Boston.

    • It’s a great area to explore and it’s very photogenic. I hope you get there before we’re back to winter.

  • Merlin Marquardt July 24, 2023 at 1:10 pm

    Lovely article with lovely photographs. You are a lucky man.

  • 🤝🤝🤝So great. Gratitude

  • I too have a growing collection of old digi-cams. This one looks great, but $500 -$1,000? Kind of defeats the lowfi, fun aspect of shooting them for me 🙁

  • Maybe you didn’t come right out and say it, but I agree with your tongue-in-cheek take that the Contax TVS digital has just as much “Yuppie” stink on it as the Lexus LF-A and $17,000/month apartment you found in the Boston Seaport district. But much unlike an old luxury car, which tends to depreciate to an insane level, especially once it’s 20-25 years old, the Contax TVS digital still sells for an insane amount of money ($550-650 on Ebay). I suppose that makes the camera more like the luxury apartment, such that like a lot of real-estate, it appreciates over time. In any event, neither the Lexus, the apartment, or the camera are likely worth the price they command, simply for appearances’ sake.

  • Arthur Gottschalk August 20, 2023 at 6:35 pm

    My film TVS was one of the best cameras I’ve ever owned. Traveled with me to India and Sri Lanka, giving great pictures and ease of carry. Unfortunately, it self destructed some years later with no chance of repair. I understand now that a repair may be possible, and I’m thinking about buying another. The camera is wonderful and the price is right.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio