Greg Girard never thought these photos would see the light of day, let alone a gallery wall. The Vancouver-born photographer wandered the city with his camera in the ‘70s, capturing life in Hastings Street diners and at landmarks including the PNE. But then he moved to Asia, and somewhere along the way, he lost the negatives; all he had left of his Vancouver photographs were the contact sheets. “I thought, ‘These pictures will have no life in the future because there are no negatives,’” Girard recalls. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Why not just photograph the images right off the contact sheet so that you’re kind of getting a bit of the texture of the paper in there?’ I never thought I’d end up using them. But not too long ago I thought, ‘Oh, why not?’” Good thing, too.
Selects from this collection of archived photographs are currently showing at Monte Clark Gallery in The Flats, until Sept. 12. Each one is a time capsule, a trip to an entirely different Vancouver. Back then, Hastings Street was brimming with pool halls and pawn shops selling fishing gear and logging equipment. Girard frequented an old Hastings Street watering hole called Steams Cafe, taking photos of whoever would let him. Often he would then print the images and give them to the people he photographed, his way of joining the community. “A photograph was a slightly rarer thing in those days,” says Girard, whose work has been featured in publications including TIME, The New Yorker, Newsweek, and National Geographic. “It was just a way to sort of give something back.” His Vancouver photos capture certain rawness, and a comfort level, in his subjects. They are a reflection of their time and place, an astute rendering of what was.
Alongside the vintage photos are three colour images, taken after Girard’s return to Vancouver in 2011. He was struck by how much the city had morphed, growing from the working class “port town at the end of the railway line”, as Girard describes it, to its current manifestation as an internationally-known hub. He was particularly struck by today’s security around the port, a place he used to visit frequently and with ease. “It used to be much more of a feature of the city,” Girard says of the port. “I came back after many years in Asia and that’s when I started photographing again with this new kind of waterfront.” The three large, vibrant images stand in stark contrast to the black and white older ones, a visceral representation of a city in constant motion and development. Still, the appearance of the show caught Girard by surprise. “You never intend to do a before-and-after thing, but it kind of looks like that,” he says. “It can seem so corny, but I think you just respond on a different level to it. It’s almost beyond the photography.”
Photos by Greg Girard and courtesy of Monte Clark Gallery.
“Greg Girard Selects” runs until September 12, 2015.
Monte Clark Gallery, #105, 525 Great Northern Way, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V5T 1E1, 604-730-5000.