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‘Vancouver in the Seventies’ photo exhibit captures the dawn of our city’s social justice backbone

Thursday 06th, October 2016 / 10:24
By Jennie Orton
Vancouver in the Seventies is like Facebook memories for our beloved city, but much less embarrassing. In this image: Protesters on Granville Street demonstrate against the Vietnam war. Photo: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun (Oct. 30, 1970)

Vancouver in the Seventies is like Facebook memories for our beloved city, but much less embarrassing.
In this image: Protesters on Granville Street demonstrate against the Vietnam war.
Photo: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun (Oct. 30, 1970)

VANCOUVER — As the matrix has made pocket-sized camera computers available to almost every person on the planet to document the world around them, the art of photo documentation has gone from quality to quantity in the blink of a photo burst. As a result, you can notice two intriguing truths while strolling the 400 images on display at The Museum of Vancouver’s Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City exhibit: the vocation of photojournalism has, by accessibility, become an evolved artistry less dependent on instinct and timing, and much of what gives Vancouver its human pulse remains unchanged.

In this image: This shot of a hippie family sunbathing at Wreck Beach—Tom X, Ellen Hill, and daughter Isabel Johnson—won photographer Glenn Baglo his second National Newspaper Award. Photo: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun (July 19, 1971)

In this image: This shot of a hippie family sunbathing at Wreck Beach—Tom X, Ellen Hill, and daughter Isabel Johnson—won photographer Glenn Baglo his second National Newspaper Award.
Photo: Glenn Baglo, Vancouver Sun (July 19, 1971)

Curator Viviane Gosselin talks about the exhibition, which is a sister project of the book by the same name written by retired Vancouver Sun research librarian Kate Bird, and the decision to categorize the images by theme instead of chronologically, as they are presented in the book; ideas such as “Building in Vancouver,” “Performing in Vancouver,” and “Playing in Vancouver,” to name a few. This practice allowed for attention to be paid to the vibe of the city and how much the decade was seminal in establishing Vancouver’s personality.

“Something I find captivating is protesting in Vancouver in the ‘70s, a lot of the issues are resonating with today,” notes Gosselin. The exhibit features photos documenting the Gastown Riots in 1971 (a clash between smoke-in protesters wanting the legalization of marijuana and police), the Battle of Jericho (a showdown between hippies squatting in the abandoned barracks of Jericho Beach and police that resulted in a dialogue about affordable options for young travellers in the city), and the 1971 founding of Greenpeace Canada in Vancouver amidst concerns of nuclear testing and pipelines.

“For every decade since the ‘20s there have always been a lot of people in the streets protesting and exercising their democratic right so I think it has become something of a Vancouverite ethos: that we want to manifest and we want to express ourselves and we do that as a collective, and the streets are the outlet or the place to do that,” Gosselin continues.

What sets these images apart is the compositional expertise adopted by those who chose to make photojournalism their career in the 1970s.

“Certainly when you look at those 400 images, they are amazing historical documents but they are also aesthetically stunning,” Gosselin posits. “They are beautiful art documents.”

Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City runs at the Museum of Vancouver from October 13 – February 26.

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