Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver


160 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55152-127-X
DDC 971.1'3304'0222





Edited by Karen Love
Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


When the city of Vancouver is conjured as an image it tends toward the
touristy view of snow-covered mountains, cruise ships, green forests,
and the sailboat-covered waters of the Georgia Strait. Rarely is a human
in view. This collection of “portraits from Vancouver” connects
people at various historical times to Vancouver’s cultural and social

There are photographs of street scenes and old local television series,
even personalities like Terry Fox, the Trudeaus, and Chief Dan George.
The images of people are organized thematically rather than
chronologically, despite the fact that historical perspective is being
advocated as the key to “seeing” the images. A good example of this
perspective is the postwar picture “The Aristocratic September
1951,” which shows a streetscape occupied by bobbysoxed pedestrians
walking in front of a restaurant topped by a billboard advertising the
newly invented automatic transmission to women drivers; a newsstand in
front of the restaurant announces the Argentine civil war. This image of
historical reality is counterbalanced by the photograph of a Pacific
Coast Aboriginal, “[Squamish] Chief Joe Mathias with 1937 Packard,
North Vancouver, March 1950,” who is dressed in clothing borrowed from
Plains Indians culture, and the Packard appears in front of Plains
Indian tepees.

Some of the images contain narratives written by leading writers and
artists, but the central narrative, “Visible and Knowable,”
contextualizes the images by exploring the notion of portraiture
historically. In this view, history becomes a form of portraiture that
is transmitted through cameras, which are described as “clocks for

To the untrained eye there is nothing photographically remarkable about
the images and their significance. Like art history, they can be
understood only through historical investigation. Since all the images
in the book are not supported by commentary, it is difficult to
appreciate them in the form in which they are presented. This
collection, however, takes an important step in that direction.


“Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/9966.