Thursday, May 02, 2013

'A Postcard from Victoria' and 'Wish You Were Here' | Two Celebrations of the Picture Postcard

The Empress Hotel pictured on a popular postcard prior to its opening

 Courtesy Empress Hotel Archives
A number of years ago I picked up Peter Grant's Wish You Were Here: Life on Vancouver Island in Historical Postcards. The 2002 TouchWood Editions book includes images that Grant collected, most of them previously unpublished. They trace the social history of Vancouver Island from 1904-1918, capturing the life and times on the island. Many of the photographs were created by artistic photographers, often amateurs, who wandered the streets or the backcountry looking for business. Chapter Two of the book, Postcard Pioneers, includes profiles of 19 Vancouver Island photographers who made real-photo postcards. 

Opening on May 2 at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria's LAB gallery is A Postcard from Victoria, running through July 7, 2013. The exhibit is based on a 16-minute docudrama of the same name produced in 1983 by Quebec artists Robert Morin and Lorraine Dufour. A Western Front Media Residency production, the video is the "eerie" story of an English visitor interviewed for a job as a tour guide at Anne Hathaway's Cottage, a now-closed tourist attraction in nearby Esquimalt. As with most of their video work, the narrative is loosely constructed and straddles the line between reality and fiction. But at the core of the work are questions of place, class, authenticity and belonging.

In addition to the video, the exhibition includes a table, chair and place setting from The Fairmont Empress Hotel's Tea Room, where the tour guide in the video enjoyed high tea after a day's work. There are also numerous historic postcards of the Empress Hotel from the 1900's -1940's, collected by Philip Francis. Specially commissioned postcards inspired by the video were created by three BC artists for the exhibition: Raymond Boisjoly of Langley; Geoffrey Farmer of Vancouver; and Julia Feyrer of Victoria. They are available for purchase in the AGGV Gallery shop. 

The exhibition also examines technology, travel and the practice of sending postcards in the 21st century. Guest Curator Michael Turner, a Vancouver-based musician and writer, gives this explanation: "Today, the speed and relative affordability of travel is matched by technologies that allow us to take a picture with our phone, add a text message and send it in an instant -- making the postcard less a redundancy than something twee and endearing, like the city of Victoria is said to be by those who visit." Turner will speak about the exhibition at the opening reception on May 16 at 7:30 PM.

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