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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Images of early British Columbia : landscape photography, 1858-1888 Schwartz, Joan Marsha


With their cumbersome equipment and refractory technology, professional photographers recorded pioneering development in British Columbia almost from the beginning of white settlement. This study examines landscape photographs taken during the thirty year period between the beginning of the Fraser River gold rush and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It comments on the nature and meaning of the photographs and suggests their relevance to an understanding of land and life in early British Columbia. Photography in early British Columbia was almost exclusively the work of professionals whose success rested upon their sensitivity to the market. For this reason, their work is to some extent a mirror of early British Columbians' sense of themselves in a new place. Nineteenth century landscape photographers focused on the wagon road and later the railroad, on gold mining and on settlement. The early forest industry attracted far less attention than the gold rush and though fishing and farming had begun, they were seldom photographed. Picnics, regattas and other leisure activities were recorded, particular in Victoria and New Westminster and more frequently in the 1880's. Spectacular physical landscapes dominate the photographic record of wilderness; microscale nature studies are singularly absent. The attention to extreme symbols of progress in the photographic record of early British Columbia is understandable. The recency and rapidity of development had made material advance a common and concrete reality, and British Columbians wanted a record of their achievement. Some colonials brought with them conservative ideas of home and society based upon British traditions and Victorian taste. Photographs of elegant surroundings and genteel pastimes confirmed that they had created a civilized society and an ordered landscape in an isolated corner of Empire. In the wider context, the photographic record of early British Columbia shares elements with other areas of frontier development and British colonization. However, it exhibits a distinctiveness which is attributable as much to the mix of landscape images in the British Columbia setting as to the images themselves.

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