Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

This vast collection of photos ranging from the 1860s to the 1920s was on exhibition at the Presentation House Gallery in North Vancouver.  It is an archive of rarely viewed images which were donated to the University of British Columbia by the Langmann family.

The photographs document the pioneering history of British Columbia, touching on political events, land surveys, logging camps, First Nations people and their displacement and city life. Roughly sixty years of historical documentary photography were on display.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

I was amazed at the quality of the photographs. All probably taken with large format cameras and showing incredible detail. Some of the key photographers included Frederick Dally, Charles Horetzky, Charles McMunn, Hannah and Richard Maynard, Ben Leeso, Edward Curtis and Leonard Frank. There was even a large format camera in one of the rooms.

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection | Daguerreotypes and Carte de visites

The highlight for me was a display of beautiful colour daguerrotypes and carte de visites. The two sets of daguerrotypes were quite unlike any that I have seen before. Their colours soft and satiny, they lay in their velvet cases like precious jewels – which they undoubtedly are! It was also interesting to see the cartes de visite on display. I had no idea that they were actually so big and quite elaborate. Some had rounded corners, others had round or oval vignettes and some had borders. They must have been quite the collector’s items in the high society of that time. The carte de visite was used as a calling card and was indicative of one’s status and social class. E.A. McCauley states in Train Your Gaze (p 96) that “people of rank, whose names might or might not be recognized, visited other people of rank, who demanded to know the identity of the caller before admitting him into their homes.”

Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection
Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection

Nanitch means “to look” in Chinook jargon – the trade language of the Pacific Northwest at that time. Questioning colonialist narratives of progress, the exhibition emphasizes the contradictions of settlement.

Presentation House Gallery

It was incredibly interesting to see photographs of the city of Vancouver. A view of from one of our oldest hotels over a street, which today is one of our extremely busy main streets, lined with designer shops and high rises, shows a view of wide open spaces, a boardwalk and a couple of double storey homes and a view to the mountains. It is rather amazing to see how much the city has changed, but yet in certain ways has still stayed the same. It is still a harbour and logging city. There are still immigrants arriving on the shores, so has the tide of colonisation been stemmed? The face of society has changed, becoming more multicultural. Industrial ventures still continue, gentrification is taking place within the inner city, commerce and political events still occur – the products and topics might have changed though and the inequities of the indigenous peoples’ displacement are still concerns which need to be addressed. With our history laid out before us, do we ever really take the time to look, deeply examine the past and learn from our mistakes? Nanitch!

Reference List

Angier, Roswell (2015). Train Your Gaze | A Practical and Theoretical Introduction to Portrait Photography. London: Bloomsbury Publishing

Capture Photography Festival. (2016) Nanitch: Early Photographs of British Columbia from the Langmann Collection. North Vancouver: Presentation House Gallery and the University of British Columbia Library.

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