Visual literacy, the ability to “read” pictorial images, is a basic skill necessary for working with still and moving images. Reading images is the first step in researching images effectively – it is the start of the appraisal process. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out the context of the photograph (or any historical artifact) and the relationship (if any) it has with other items found with it. At work, we referred to it as “forensic cataloguing” – taking all the clues you have (visual, textual, etc.) and investigating them, until you have a clearer picture of what is in front of you. Sometimes all you have to start with is the artifact itself, and a brief (often vague) notation. In the case of the photo below, I had the name of the owner, but no other contextual information was found on the photo envelope.
Take for example the photo above, on first glance it is a B&W photo of a woman in a park-like setting. Look a little closer, and you might notice the mountains in the background; the clothing she is wearing; and the style of her hair. You begin to get a clearer picture (no pun intended) of how to describe this photograph.
What if you were to add into the mix, the following two photographs found in the same negative envelope along with the photo above?
Of course the Lions Gate Bridge is the most obvious clue, as it is an iconic Vancouver landmark. Being a native Vancouverite, I am also familiar with Lumberman’s Arch – a landmark in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. However, this is a photo of the original Lumberman’s Arch (built in 1912), which was dismantled in 1947 (being made of wood, it started to rot) and was later replaced by a simpler, more modern Lumberman’s Arch in 1952.
So, by adding up all the clues we found in the 3 photos above – the fashion and hair style; the Stanley Park location; the date Lions Gate Bridge opened ( November 1938); the type of cars on the bridge; the date Lumberman’s Arch was dismantled, etc. – we can confidently date the photos to the 1940s (1939-1947) and state the location to be Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
These photos were found among a collection of photographs and films once belonging to Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan (nee Nobel); a homeless (or orphaned) collection currently being ‘fostered’ at the CBC Media Archives in Vancouver. More about ‘Bunty’ Brennan and the collection in a future post.
Speaking of Stanley Park… it is celebrating it’s 125th anniversary this year. In 1886 ( the year of Vancouver’s incorporation) the city petitioned the federal government to lease 400 hectares of a heavily logged peninsula for recreational purposes. The city’s first official green space opened two years later in 1888. The City of Vancouver is celebrating 125 years of Stanley Park on August 24 and 25, more info can be found on the official website.
To put you in the mood of celebrating the history of Stanley Park, take a look at this Tom Whitefoot film of scenes of people enjoying Stanley Park in the 1930s.
Stanley Park, ca. 1938 (excerpts) – YouTube.