A Closer Look at Photographs

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Let’s go back to that idea of a picture being worth a thousand words. One photo of a young woman picking apples led us to a fascinating story of a courageous lady who came to Creston in 1912 (if you missed it, read that story here). Photographs can tell us a lot about a place, or a time, or a person – or all three – if we look for the clues. Here’s an example:

Banff Meatateria, 1955, Fred Herzog

This is one of many photographs taken by Fred Herzog, a street photographer in Vancouver in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He is known for his ability to capture the essence of every-day life, and for capturing detail of ordinary events and ordinary activities – in vivid colour. Take a close look at this photo. What do you see?

  • First of all, when and where is it taken? How can you tell (other than the caption, of course!)?
  • Do you think people in Banff liked going out and doing things around town? What in the picture helps you answer that question?
  • Even though there are lots of cars, there aren’t very many people in this photo. Can we guess what their opinion of winter might have been?
  • When this photo was taken, was Banff a tourist town? If you’ve been to Banff, or if you can find photos online of its main street today, compare the types of businesses today to the ones you can see in this photo. Does that help answer the question?
  • What is a meatateria? What is a groceteria? How do these stores compare to the stores we have today?
  • Look at the products visible through the window of the Meatateria. They sure look like cans of food, maybe soup – do you agree? What does that tell you about people’s eating habits? For example, were they making their own food, or buying convenience items? How is that different from earlier periods, and what prompted the change?

Searching for clues in photographs is fun, isn’t it? Look at all the things we’ve been able to talk about from just this one photo! Here’s another example:

Salmo-Creston Trek, 1952, Hank Buckna

This photo was taken by Creston photographer Hank Buckna in 1952. It shows a group of men walking across the flats towards Creston, at the end of a long hike over the mountains from Salmo. They were trying to demonstrate to the government the need for, and feasibility of, a road between the two communities. Eleven years later, the present-day Salmo-Creston highway was completed.

Even though this photo looks like just a snapshot, it was very carefully planned. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Why do you think the photographer used this perspective, with the men dominating the image and the mountains looking small in the background?
  • Some of the men in the photo are older, but the one leading the way (Jack Wigen) is quite young. Does that have any significance? If we suggested it shows youth leading the way to the future, would you agree? Why or why not?
  • Even though these people have just hiked all the way from Salmo to Creston through a rough wilderness, Jack’s white shirt looks perfectly clean. Would your shirt be perfectly clean after a hike like that? Do you think Jack might have changed his before the photo was taken? Why would he do that – is it a way of sending a message to the government?

Now it’s your turn! Think about something you want people to know – maybe something you want to tell them about yourself, or what’s special about a place you like to be, or about your favourite things to do. Set up a scene that gives clues about your important thing. Take a photo of it and post it in the comments!