A Victoria photographer is working to unearth and preserve the art form’s forgotten practitioners in B.C., in hopes they and the history they recorded will not be forgotten again.
Don Denton, a photographer with Black Press Media, has collected hundreds of photographs, magazines and exhibition booklets as well as conducting more than 50 interviews with members of the province’s photography community. Some of his discoveries will form the basis of his upcoming online course at the University of Victoria entitled, Other Vancouver Photographers, but his real hope is the research will eventually become an archive and serve as a resource for future historians.
“I’ve always been interested in the history of photography,” Denton said. “A few years ago now … there was a Vancouver photographer who passed away and I was curious about his photo practice. I went to try and find some more background on him, and it was really challenging. It was one of those things where, here was a person who was fairly prominent, but now that he was gone, it was quite challenging to find information on his photo career.
“It just really opened my eyes to two things: One, when a person is gone, you lose so much history, so much information. The other thing I realized, there was this really big area of photography in B.C. … this whole group of people working that I didn’t really know a lot about.”
Denton has focused on photographers who did amazing work – often in close concert with other more well-known photographers – but whose photos, for various reasons, were viewed by relatively few people.
One such discovery is Bruce Stewart, who worked with well-known photographer Fred Herzog at the University of British Columbia.
”On weekends he and Fred would go out, wander around and take photographs,” Denton said. “They have images that are similar, but slightly different … (Stewart) is an amazing photographer and basically came out of the same place as Fred, but everybody knows Fred and nobody knows Bruce.”
While his research has been able to capture a rather complete snapshot of Stewart’s photographic exploits, Denton said other discoveries have far more mystery yet to unravel.
“My big mystery is Lynn Phipps. She came up from California in the late 1960s to Vancouver. As far as I have been able to find out, she was really the first person to do an extended documentary project of the Downtown East Side.”
While Phipps had several exhibitions in the 1970s, Denton has only found two surviving examples of her work. Even more mysteriously, beyond having heard she moved to the Fraser Valley, he has not found any other record of her after those exhibitions, or even confirm one report that she had died.
“Here’s a person who did this work that is important, probably the first of its kind, and we don’t know what happened to it,” he said. “We don’t know what happened to her, we don’t know what happened to her work.”
Denton hopes to hear from anyone with a collection of old photos in their basement from a family member or friend who was an active photographer – professional or otherwise – or from anyone who knows about someone who played a role in B.C.’s photography scene so he can add their history and work to his project.
He can be contacted at email@example.com.