Insight into Library and Archives Canada’s collection: interview with photographer Martin Weinhold

Recently, the Library and Archives Canada Discover Blog had a chance to interview documentary photographer Martin Weinhold about some of his photographs of Canadians at work, held in Library and Archives Canada’s collection.

Kenwyn Bertrand, I, worker.

Kenwyn Bertrand, I, worker. MIKAN 3842771, e010934568

  1. These photographs are part of a larger series. In just a few words, please tell us what series this is and what inspired it?
  2. The photographs are part of the “WorkSpace Canada” collection, a long-term project that still is a work in progress. The project’s goal is a general description of the world of work in Canada in the early 21st century; a kind of visual inventory centred around the human aspect of labour, work and action. The idea for this photographic documentary was triggered in 2005 when I read Hannah Arendt’s book “The Human Condition.”

    Kenwyn Bertrand, II, worker.

    Kenwyn Bertrand, II, worker. MIKAN 3842782, e010934567

  3. Please tell us why you chose to take three different photographs of the same subject?
  4. I wanted to introduce Kenwyn Bertrand, a worker at a car shredder yard in Hamilton, Ontario, with a threefold approach: giving the viewer a notion of the work environment and the activity happening there, as well as showing a facet of his individual personality. This pattern is the general approach for the “WorkSpace Canada” series.

    When I came to the car shredder yard I had a kind of production schedule already in mind. From previous visits and observations I knew the so-called picking shacks were one part of the operation, and I knew they were a must in the overall description of the place. I wanted to visually translate what it was like being on shift there. Kenwyn and I discussed what would be important for me to photograph and what wouldn’t. For Kenwyn, being at his workplace meant this repeated waiting for the copper parts among the rubbish on the conveyor belt—the whole reason his job existed. Then there was the locker room, the place where every shift began and ended. And the only possible place for a portrait. Although for privacy we had to wait until every worker from Kenwyn’s shift had left.

    Kenwyn Bertrand, III, worker.

    Kenwyn Bertrand, III, worker. MIKAN 3842786, e010934566

  5. How can we tell that these are Martin Weinhold photographs?
  6. I think—I hope—the intensity of my dealing with the subject can be seen. I try to establish an intense relationship with every person I photograph. Time is the crucial precondition for that. Time is the luxury I insist on having with my documentary work. If the viewer can read the intensity in my photographs and see it as typical for a Martin Weinhold photograph—that would make me very happy.

Where art and history meet: exhibitions of historical photographs at the National Gallery of Canada

What happens when the practical also has a poetic side?

In recent months, visitors to the National Gallery of Canada have had a chance to explore the answer to this question. A series of small exhibitions of historical photographs, drawn from Library and Archives Canada’s collection, considers the aesthetic, as well as the documentary properties of images created “on-the-job” by 19th-century surveyors, public servants and engineers.

In the heart of the Rocky Mountains: A snowstorm, by Charles Horetzky

In the heart of the Rocky Mountains: A snowstorm, by Charles Horetzky (Source: MIKAN 3264251, e011067226)

At first glance, this beautiful photograph, which was part of the past exhibition Early Exploration Photographs in Canada, seem to be exactly as labelled — a view of the Peace River in British Columbia, as it appeared during a snowstorm in October 1872. It turns out, however, that Charles Horetzky, official photographer with Sir Sandford Fleming’s Canadian Pacific Railway survey team, deliberately enhanced its dramatic effect: paint splatters were added to the image in order to create the effect of non-existent snow.

The current exhibition, Paul-Émile Miot: Early Photographs of Newfoundland, on view until February 2, 2014, includes this portrait from the 1800s, by French naval officer Paul-Émile Miot.

Mi’kmaq man, by Paul-Émile Miot

Mi’kmaq man, by Paul-Émile Miot (Source: MIKAN: 3535989, e011076347)

It was taken while surveying and mapping the coastal areas of Newfoundland — at the time, France maintained a commercial fishing interest in these waters. Though Miot was capturing the earliest known photographs of members of the Mi’kmaq Nation, the extravagant pose of his subject suggests 19th-century European romanticism.

So-called inaccuracies or created effects in 19th-century documentary photographs do not negate the worth of these images as records of past events. If anything, they add fascinating nuances of meaning to these items, as artifacts.

We invite you to stay tuned for the next exhibition, on Arctic exploration photography, opening on February 7, 2014.

How anonymous or little-known portrait sitters tell the Canadian story

No names are recorded on this 1913 photograph of an Ontario boys’ band.

Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913.

Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913. Source

Although the leader, “Bandmaster Wheeler,” is identified in a second photograph of this same group, we have found little information about him or the group of boys that he taught.

Bandmaster Wheeler and Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913

Bandmaster Wheeler and Boy’s Brass Band Community Movement Pembroke, circa 1913 Source

A surprising number of portraits in Library and Archives Canada’s (LAC) collection are anonymous or little–known men, women and children. We may never know the identity of these people or discover more about their lives, yet these portraits are as important to LAC’s collection as portraits of well-known people.

These boys’ band photographs document an interesting social movement at the beginning of the 20th century. Community organizations concerned about the morals and manners of their children sponsored bands for young boys. Participation in these bands was seen as a way of learning community service and developing local and national pride.

Viewed together, these photographs illustrate this idea. We know that the first photograph was taken slightly earlier because the boys wear suits rather than band uniforms. Local records of the time show that they were still raising money through performances to earn their uniforms. The second photograph shows the group in uniform — the reward for learning this lesson in personal responsibility and hard work.

These group photographs probably helped to cement the band’s unity and team spirit. Membership in this band looks as though it might have been a lot of fun too, judging by Bandmaster Wheeler’s slightly loosened tie in one photograph, and the jaunty angle of his hat in the other. Wheeler is an interesting figure, being an early Black bandmaster in small-town Ontario. LAC holds few portraits of Black Canadians from this period. Wheeler’s presence in these photographs provides us with an important record.

We continue to research the identity of unknown portrait sitters. If you can help, please contact us.

To view other examples of anonymous or little-known sitters in LAC’s portrait collection, visit our Flickr Album.

Margie Gillis Dance Foundation Archival Holding at Library and Archives Canada

Did you know that, since 2010, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has held the Margie Gillis Dance Foundation’s audiovisual, administrative and promotional materials?

Dance performance advertisement featuring Margie Gillis.

Dance performance advertisement featuring Margie Gillis.
© Margie Gillis Dance Foundation. Credit: Michael Slobodian

The Foundation itself chose LAC to preserve its documentary heritage as a result of a 2008 analysis report that strongly urged the Foundation to ensure the long-term preservation of its documentary heritage in a Canadian archive.

LAC has more than 1,100 photographs illustrating the career of this internationally acclaimed Canadian contemporary dancer and choreographer. The collection features photographs by nationally and internationally renowned photographers and artists, including Annie Leibovitz, Lois Greenfield, Cylla Von Tiedemann, Michael Slobodian and Jack Udashkin.

Black and white artistic dance photo of Margie Gillis

Black and white artistic dance photo of Margie Gillis.
© Margie Gillis Dance Foundation. Credit: Annie Leibovitz

The archival holding also includes about 750 hours of audiovisual materials. This unique collection of recordings shows Margie Gillis’s choreographic and artistic work from the beginning of her career to today. Her dance performances in Canada, the United States and around the world are thus preserved for posterity, along with her choreography labs and rehearsal sessions, and a large number of media interviews and reports.

In addition, the textual records, brochures and multiple posters in a variety of formats provide an overview of the activities carried out by the Foundation, which was created in 1981. The Foundation’s primary mission is to support, protect and promote the artistic vision of Margie Gillis, a pioneer and an innovator in contemporary dance.

All the materials in the holding are accessible. However, they may not be reproduced or used without the Foundation’s consent.

The fonds can be consulted online.

For more information about Margie Gillis and her dance foundation, please consult the Foundation’s website.

The Mountain Legacy Project: An Archive-Based Scientific Project

Beginning in 1871, the Dominion Lands Branch had been surveying and mapping Canada from East to West. By 1886, the Dominion Lands Survey had extended to the Rocky Mountains, but the rugged terrain made traditional survey methods impractical. Édouard-Gaston Deville, Surveyor General of Canada, devised a new methodology called “phototopography,” (also known as photogrammetry) based on the use of survey photography from hot-air balloons in France and Italy. A special camera was constructed for surveyors, who ascended thousands of peaks in Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon. They rotated and levelled their cameras on tripods to create 360-degree views of the surrounding terrain. Between 1887 and 1958, more than 100,000 glass plate negatives were used to create the first topographic maps of the Canadian Rockies, of which 60,000 are now part of the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) collection.

Since 2002, LAC has been a major participant in the Mountain Legacy Project, an ongoing partnership led by the University of Victoria, which includes stakeholders in universities, archives, government, and non-governmental organizations.

LAC identifies, describes and digitizes the original negatives. These photographic records are the foundation of this multidisciplinary project, which uses “repeat” photography. It consists of re-photographing the landscape from the precise original locations to provide information about environmental changes that have occurred over the last 120 years.

To search LAC holdings of original photographs, follow these easy steps:

  1. Go to the Basic Archives Search.
  2. Enter the archival reference number R214-350-0-E in the search box.
  3. From the Type of material drop-down menu, select Photographic material and then click on Submit. Your search will generate a list of results.
  4. Select an underlined title to access the full description of a photograph. The descriptive records display images of photographs that have been digitized.

For more information about how to search for photographs at LAC, consult our articles “How to Find Photographs Online” and “How to Search for Images Online.”

If you wish to narrow your search:

  1. Go to the Archives Advanced Search.
  2. Select Photographic material from the drop-down menu labelled Type of material
  3. Use one or a combination of the following options as keywords in the Any Keyword search box:
    1. Name of the surveyor (e.g., Bridgland, McArthur or Wheeler).
    2. Year of the survey (must be used along with another keyword to limit search).
    3. Name of a survey (e.g., Crowsnest Forest Reserve, or Interprovincial Boundary Survey, although these may have taken place over several years, by various surveyors).
    4. Name of a particular landscape feature, such as mountain peak, river, creek, or valley (often the views are identified by the station/peak they were taken from, rather than by the peak or landscape featured in the photograph).
    5. Name of the park (Note: The LAC collection does not contain reproductions of the images from Jasper and Banff National Parks).
  4. Limit your search results by selecting a decade under the label “Date” on the right side of the screen.

For more information about the Project, and to compare the archival images with the repeat photography, visit the Mountain Legacy Project website. To view a sampling of paired photographs, visit our Flickr Set. To view some images of the surveyors, visit our Facebook Album.

Questions or comments? We would love to hear from you!

Hidden Treasures – Winnie the bear

Discovering hidden treasures in our institution’s vast collection of archival material is one of the exciting benefits of researching at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Recently, two previously undescribed photographs of the bear mascot Winnie, the famous Canadian inspiration for A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, were found and made available online.

A reference technician from LAC was searching for First World War photographs taken in March 1915 of the 15th Canadian Battalion in the trenches of Neuve-Chapelle, France. The technician consulted the usual sources (online database, onsite Finding Aids, and contact cards from the Department of National Defence photographic collection) and found a description of a possible and unexpected item in the personal collection of Horace Brown.

The photographs from this collection were retrieved from storage; some of them were very small and difficult to view. One seemed to be of a soldier wearing a very odd hat. Further investigation with the aid of a lighted magnifying glass revealed the “soldier” was actually a bear cub and the curious headgear was its ears! A second image of the bear cub was also identified in the collection. A bit of sleuth work revealed that Horace Brown, a member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, had been stationed at Salisbury Plain, England during October and November 1914, at the same time as Lieutenant Harry Colebourn with his mascot, Winnie.

Although many photographs exist of the famous bear in the Manitoba Archives and private collections, these were the first ones to be identified in LAC’s holdings. The images may now be viewed by all Winnie the bear (and Winnie-the-Pooh) fans here and here on our website.

Harry Colebourn with Winnie the bear - Salisbury Plain.

Harry Colebourn with Winnie the bear – Salisbury Plain. (e011067493-v8)

Harry Colebourn with Winnie the bear - Salisbury Plain.

Harry Colebourn with Winnie the bear – Salisbury Plain. (e011067494-v8)

Project Naming: The first ten years and beyond

Initiated in 2002, Project Naming is a community engagement and photo identification project that aims to reconnect Inuit with their past by identifying the people and events portrayed in photographs held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). We have added the names of individuals and descriptions of activities to our database, which you can search online.

Over the last ten years, we have digitized more than 8,000 of those photographs and have received identifications for approximately 1,900 individuals. New information about these pictures is gathered through a variety of methods, including an online form, community slide shows and other social gatherings, weekly features in local newspapers, social media and on-site research visits.

Quite often, identifications come as a result of intergenerational conversations that take place in person or virtually—or both. Such was the case when Nunavut News/North published a photograph of Rhoda Qaqsauq, and her daughters, Lucy Evo and Janet Tagoona, on February 11, 2013; upon discovering this picture, Deborah Kigjugalik Webster shared it on Facebook, thus sparking a lively conversation between her and other family members.

An example of a successful on-site visit occurred in June 2012 when a group of Elders and youth from Arviat, Nunavut, located on the southwest coast of Hudson Bay, made a trip to Ottawa. They looked through hundreds of photographs and negatives taken between the 1920s and the 1970s.

This enabled them to identify 31 family members in 17 images. Louisa Gibbons discovered her mother, Catherine Kopak, and her grandmother, Yarat, in a picture taken in Kingayualik, near Padlei.

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak (left), Louisa Gibbons (centre) and Elder Mary Nowtalik (right).

Elder Eva Muyunaganiak also discovered a photograph of her mother, Uyaupiak, dating from the late 1960s. Today, the remaining 22 Elders in the community of Arviat are the only ones able to recognize people and describe what life was like in photographs taken more than 50 years ago. Elder Muyunaganiak passed away in September 2012; her death reminds us of how time-sensitive an initiative Project Naming is.

Project Naming has now evolved into a broader community engagement initiative that has expanded beyond the territory of Nunavut to other Aboriginal communities in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Labrador. We hope to build upon this dialogue with members of Northern communities using new technologies and social media.

To learn more, listen to our Project Naming and Canada’s North podcast.

Yesterday Once More: Canada’s Music Industry in Portraits

Do you have a favourite popular musician or rock group from the last three or four decades of the 20th century? There’s a good chance you’ll be able to find their photographs documented in the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Portrait Portal.

The Portal contains photographs taken between 1963 and 2000, selected from LAC’s RPM fonds, an archive that includes thousands of Canada’s and the world’s most popular artists and bands. It also features actors, music and entertainment executives, broadcasters, politicians and sports figures rubbing shoulders with music industry greats. These portraits have been digitized and added to the Portrait Portal as part of LAC’s ongoing digitization initiatives.

What is the significance of the RPM archive to the Canadian music industry?

Founded in Toronto in 1964, RPM was a Canadian weekly trade publication that focused on the Canadian music recording and radio industries. In 1964 it established the RPM Gold Leaf Awards (also referred to as the Maple Leaf Awards), which would soon evolve into the JUNO Awards. RPM was among the parties that lobbied for Canadian content regulations in the broadcast media, and it inaugurated the RPM MAPL logo (with MAPL standing for music, artists, production, lyrics) that has been widely used to identify the Canadian content of commercial sound recordings. The periodical ceased publication in 2000.

According to Cheryl Gillard, a Library and Archives Canada music specialist, the collection of RPM photographs, now available online through the Portrait Portal, “allows anyone, anywhere to take a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the music industry. Also, for the first time, the Portal’s collection of RPM photos allows less high-profile but historically important Canadian music professionals to be documented and honoured.” This collection showcases Canadian popular culture and reflects the interconnection between the music industries in Canada and the United States.

You can search for photographs of popular musicians in the LAC Portrait Portal simply by entering the name of your favourite band or musician into the keyword search field.

For more information about Canada’s music industry, check out LAC’s RPM database, which contains the digitized versions of the music charts in RPM Weekly from 1964 to 2000. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) website is also a great place to search for a list of past JUNO award recipients—and more!