Parr and Wood were photographing new Brighton at the same time during the early 1980s. Parr claimed ‘I am a documentary photographer, and if I take a good photograph in the process, that’s a bonus.’ Wood stated ‘I’m interested in good photographs, and if they document something, so much the better!’ (Wood, 2005, p.33).
Which of these approaches most closely reflects your own experience?
Course manual p. 46
After watching the video on Tom Wood I think that my own experience definitely leans more towards that of Tom Wood than Martin Parr. When doing street photography I tend to go out and try and get interesting photos. I don’t always realise it at the time, but when I get home I do sometimes find that I have some images that would fit into a documentary category. But I really just start out with a blank slate in my mind and go with the flow of whatever is happening on that particular day and try and have some fun.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
Another line up for the Capture Photography Festival was Brian Howell at the Winsor Gallery. Howell is a Canadian photographer, specialising in large format projects. He is drawn to photographing fringe and/or marginalized communities and his style is reminiscent of documentary photography.
Most of the images on exhibit were from his Wrestlers project. The black and white images were large, grainy and very in-your-face. The grittiness of the images very aptly reflected the grungy surroundings where the wrestling tournaments take place and the type of people that attend these events.
I have only seen the big celebrity tournaments or Olympic wrestling events on TV, but the images in this series do not fall within those categories. They are not the play-acting scenarios or the clean Greco-style that is normally served up on the box.
One sees a working class audience with their prejudices attending the event, emotions on full display. Howell’s images make one feel as if one is present at the event. One can feel the crunch of bones, hear the crowd roar and smell the sweat and blood. The violence is almost tangible. The images have a strange mesmerizing effect – too gruesome to watch, too compelling to turn away.
In a sharp contrast to these images on the opposite wall was a photograph (almost abstract) of stark beauty. It was an image of a burnt forest during the winter. Although this image looks like a black and white photo it is in colour as can be seen if one carefully looks at some of the trees – there is a hint of orange from the scraped off bark. The image is comprised of vertical and diagonal lines of the upright and fallen trees, and this give the photograph a sense of movement and anticipation, reminding me of Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
There is a sense of peace emanating from this image, depicted by the fallen trees gently covered with a blanket of snow.
A couple of Howell’s other images were from his Shopping Carts series. Howell has taken various shopping carts used by the homeless to either collect items or to store their worldly goods and photographed them in a studio setting as portraits against a white background. In doing so, the shopping carts seem to become elevated in status – no longer simply containers of throw-away goods, but something of interest and worthy of investigation. By removing them from the back alleys and placing them in a pristine environment they have changed from objects of ugliness. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they have changed to objects of beauty, but objects of intrigue might be more fitting.
I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the varied work that Howell had on exhibition.