Sunday, December 5, 2010

Coming Soon

So the title of the essay I that I will be presenting on Wednesday is ...

Reframing the Photographs:
Exploring the Use of Residential School Photography in "Where are the Children"

"Where are the Children: Healing the Legacy of Residential Schools" is a travelling exhibit created by the Legacy of Hope Foundation. The exhibit is mainly comprised of photographs taken at Residential Schools found in church and government archives. The exhibit was curated by Jeff Thomas and has been travelling the country since 2002. Its most recent installation was at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's First National Event in Winnipeg this past June. An online version of the exhibit can be found here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who Are These...100 Years of Girl Guides

While I was home for Thanksgiving back in October, I visited the 100 Years of Girl Guides exhibit at the Richmond Hill Heritage Centre. The exhibit was created by the dedicated women of the Richvale Trefoil Guild (think Girl Guides for adults), which included many of my former leaders. Having been a Brownie, Guide, Pathfinder and Ranger in the Richvale District many of the photographs in the exhibit were of me and my friends. Once at the exhibit with my mother and grandmother in tow, we were greeted by Joan Lund, my former Guide and Pathfinder Leader and Guider Extrodinaire!

The exhibit included uniforms, badge scarfs and other artifacts from past and present. Mostly, though, there were dozens and dozens of photographs on display. Bright colour photographs were interspersed with black and white snapshots from Joan's mother's days as a Guide. When reading of McAllister’s shock in viewing her family photographs at the Powell Street Festival a few weeks later I was reminded of this experience. There I was growing up on the walls of a museum. It was a bit surreal.

Can you guess which one is me?

While my mother and grandmother tried to spot as many photos of my sister and I as they could, I reminisced with Joan. This photograph, taken early one morning at spring camp in Pathfinders, is one of my favorites. A group of us had decided sleeping in canvas covered platform tents wasn’t “roughing it” enough. We laid out some tarps and slept under the stars in just our sleeping bags. Just before dawn we woke up and took the chairs we had made ourselves the previous day and lugged them to the top of the hill near the campsite to watch the sunrise. As I recounted this memory to Joan, she shared a different version of the story with me, one where she awoke to find five of her campers missing, finally finding us as we are in the photograph. I reminded her that she had then brought us up some hot chocolate. We were soon joined by Andrea (second from the left), her sister Jacqueline and their mother Joan and we continued to share stories. Prompted by the images, the memories came flowing back. The exhibit acted as an album of sorts, providing, as Langford puts it, a “pictorial aide de memoire to recitation – to the telling of stories.”

Looking at these images, I am reminded of an improv game we played as Pathfinders called “Freeze Frame.” Two people would begin to act out a scene; one of the girls watching would then call out “Freeze!” The performers would then stop, their actions frozen. The girl who called out would replace one of the performers, duplicating her pose, and would then start a completely new scene from the same positions. One frozen image has the potential for multiple meanings. The same is true for this photograph. What would this photograph mean to a casual visitor to the Richmond Hill Heritage Centre? Not necessarily the scene I laid out above. Perhaps she could see that these are five girls, chairs lined up in a row, watching the sun come up. Not much more. They could be at a cottage, watching a sunset in the backyard. “Voices must be heard for memories to be preserved, for the album to fulfill its function,” says Langford. At 100 Years of Girl Guides I witnessed the orality of the photograph in action.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let Facebook Keep the Story

For the past year the chalkboard in Paterson 421 has been home to a number of doodles and puns about bees. Towards the end of the year the fun of the puns grew wearisome as calls to “pollinate the board with a new theme” grew louder. However, no one wanted to erase it. In September I took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook. Later it was tagged with the names of contributors to the board, perhaps suggesting that the creator of the image was present in the image itself? Finally, two brave souls took the initiative to erase the board a week or two later. (No hasty decisions were made)A photograph of the board allowed the chalk creation to be erased. I wonder if it was it the act of photographing it allowed for it to be erased or its dissemination on Facebook?

Not everything was documented. The photo did not capture the thuggish evil looking bee behind the calendar which was hidden from view most of the time. Now the hidden bee is lost forever.

Do you believe in fairies?

In 1917, Elsie Wright (age 10) and Frances Griffiths (age 16) took photographs of fairies at the bottom of their garden after having been scolded by their mothers for getting dirty when playing down in the "beck." The photographs caused controversy in 1920 when author and Spiritualist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published these photographs as evidence of the existence of fairies in an article for The Strand.Public debate over the authenticity of the photographs ensued. Years later, the girls admitted they had faked all except one of the photographs. Looking at the photographs today, its hard to understand how these photographs could have convinced anyone. Yet, as I mentioned in class, when you take into consideration the close association of photography and science in the Victorian and Edwardian era as illustrated in James R. Ryan's Picturing Empire , it is easier to comprehend the acceptance of these photographs as hard evidence.

This video of the Frances Griffiths' daughter and granddaughter on the Antique Roadshow was posted on youtube as proof of the existence of fairies by a modern-day spiritualist.

The Cottingley Fairies - The Proof That The Photos Captured Fairies.

Art, sport, or science? Camera hunting in the age of technology.

As I mentioned in class, two brothers took a trip to Africa to photograph "big game" at a new angle. They built the remote controlled BeetleCam, to get right up close to elephants, African buffalo and lions. Check out the "The Adventures of Beetlecam" on their blog here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Tuition of Thomas Moore

Often, in my research on residential schools, I have come across a before and after image of Thomas Moore, a pupil at Regina Indian Industrial School. Initially I found the image deeply distrubing, while my reaction was not as visceral as Susan Sontag's response to photographs of Holocaust survivors, I was nevertheless disturbed. There are no obvious signs of trauma on the face or body of the child in either photograph, rather a boy in different modes of dress. Nevertheless, they are powerful images that delineate a racist government agenda. An agenda that involvied the destruction of an indigenous culture and the abuse of thousands of children.

These photographs first appeared in the Department of Indian Affairs 1904 Annual Report. The denoted message remains the same over the last century: a juxtaposition of two photos. One with an Aboriginal boy in “authentic” traditional dress and another with the same boy in western clothing. The connotation of the images, however, has changed. What was once seen as a 'desirable outcome' is now understood as an act of violence.

I first saw these photos in Shingwauk’s Vision, J.R. Miller’s comprehensive history of residential schools. In this text the photos are cropped close to Moore’s body and hide revealing details about the intended reading of the photograph. For example, the first image containes a fur lined ledge indicating a “natural” and “authentic” setting, where as a potted plant, that is as cultivated and manicured as Thomas, is present in the after shot. Soon after comming across the images in Miller's work, I began seeing it again and again. I saw them on book covers, posters and even in the travelling exhibit: Where are the Children? The photos of Thomas Moore feature on the promotional material, the exhibit catalogue and the orginal was present in the exibit itself.

Throughout my months of research I have become exasperated by the constant presence of this image. My response to the, in my opinion, overuse of the pictures resonates with Sontag. I belive that some of pictures power to evoke an emotional response has been lost by its ubiquitous presence. On the other hand, however, the proliferation of this image shows that this horrific past is being confronted by academics, governments, and individuals. These images of Thomas Moore have become iconic and serve as powerful reminder of the traumatic experience of residential schools. While the initial impact of these photos are lost for me, they have gained deeper meaning as a metaphor for horrific history they represents and the work that has been done to confront this traumatic past.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Photography Workshop at the CMC

Earlier this semester I attended a photography workshop at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. They gave us some basic photography tips, show us examples of their work and let us "backstage" to look at their studio where they do artifact photography. Afterwards they let us loose on the museum to take what photographs we could. I made friends with a retired engineer named Rick who has made photography his hobby. He's part of the Ottawa Camera Club, an organization that has been in existence for over 100 years. Being very much a beginner, he took it upon himself to teach me a thing or two about taking pictures.

It fascinated me what he chose to observe and what he chose to photograph. We walked through Canada Hall, my new friend took the trouble to let me know that he doesn't take snapshots, he makes art. He took pictures of a trellis of roses in Upper Canada, an anachronistic metal box in New France and some paint cans in British Columbia. By the time we reached the recreated Ukrainian church he began to engage with the exhibits as something other than a photographic subject. He was struck by the beauty of the church. "I'm not going to photograph this, I'm just going to put it in my memories." He closed his eyes and took a moment. The camera to him was not a tool to record reality but one of the imagination. No box was going to store his memories for him.

Throughout the afternoon. The language he used was right out of Sontag. "It time to pull out the guns," he said, when we started off to take pictures for ourselves. At a map of fur trade routes he pointed out places where he used to hunt and later on detailed a photographic safari he planned to take in the next year or so. A hunter turned photographer... now where have I heard that before? While I might not have taken the best shots that day myself, I was able to witness photography in action and another perspective on why its done.

These shots were taken imitating Rick... unfortunately I don't have his stunning images to show you.