Academic journal article Manitoba History

Esyllt W. Jones, Imagining Winnipeg: History through the Photographs of L.B. Foote

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Esyllt W. Jones, Imagining Winnipeg: History through the Photographs of L.B. Foote

Article excerpt

Esyllt W. Jones, Imagining Winnipeg: History Through the Photographs of L.B. Foote.

Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2012, 154 pages.

ISBN 978-0-88755-735-4, $39.95 (paperback)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

L.B. Foote was one of Winnipeg's most influential chroniclers. His photographs of the city's growth into a prairie metropolis, of its infamous north end, and of the labour strife resulting in the 1919 General Strike have shaped our historical impressions of the city. We know very little about Foote himself. But, whatever his intentions or motivations, it is striking how his career paralleled that of the city he photographed.

Beginning in the early years of the 1900s and continuing into the 1950s Foote produced over 2,000 images, now housed at the Archives of Manitoba. These images capture a remarkable spectrum of life--from political rallies, industrial construction, and rural life, to leisure and family gatherings. The photographs were made in all seasons and cut across class lines. Yet, despite the length of his career and variety of subject matter, Foote's visual legacy is defined by his earliest images, especially those depicting the living and working conditions in the years leading up to 1919.

With Imagining Winnipeg, Esyllt Jones seeks to redefine how we understand Foote's photographs. Through an introductory essay and 150 carefully selected images, Jones challenges past interpretations of Foote's work. In place of a pre-1920 focus, she argues that Foote's later photos need to be integrated into the historical record of his most iconic images. By considering Foote's historical place within his entire corpus of work, this book raises important questions about the nature of photographs as evidence, the problems of placing them in historical context, and our own responsibilities as audience of the images.

The reproductions of the photographs themselves are very good, and the production quality of the book is high. Each page contains a stand-alone plate, uncluttered by text save for caption and archival reference. Of the included images, eighty-four were made after 1919. These are loosely organized by theme and chronologically. Although the images unfortunately lack an index, Jones' essay does include references to nearly half. In the essay itself Jones deftly weaves Foote's biography, drawing in part on his unpublished memoirs, with a more personal reflection on her interaction with photography as history. This will appeal to photographers and historians alike. For those interested in the technical side of Foote's photography, there is less material. Jones notes that the Archives of Manitoba contains little information about how Foote worked. Still, it would be nice to have more information on Foote's methodology and equipment, or at least more explanation of how or why this information has not survived.

The focus of the book is clearly Foote's photographs, especially their place in Winnipeg's history and their use in conflicting narratives of city's past. Jones tackles each in a discussion of race, the photos' role as evidence (for social reformers and social historians alike), and Foote's relation to labour and capital. The power of Foote's work rests in his uncanny ability to speak to audiences across time and place. Contemporaries embraced the photographs because of Foote's ability to mimic their own worldviews. …

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