Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: John Paskievich

One of my favourite Foote photographs is the one of Princess Elizabeth, now Queen, taken in 1951 on the sidewalk in front of the Canadian Pacific Railway Station and the conjoined Royal Alexandra Hotel on Higgins Ave.

My reasons for especially liking this picture are two-fold; the first is nostalgic and the other is photographic.

Arriving with my family in Winnipeg in 1958 I remember us walking out of the CP station and then heading right on Higgins towards Main St. along the same strip of sidewalk where the photo was taken. However, I can't recall any crowds across the street atop Segal Drugs welcoming our arrival.

Growing up in Point Douglas, my friends and I would spend our Saturdays at one of the many movie theatres that lined Main St. from Higgins to Alexander Ave. To get to Main St. we would often take a short cut through the CP Station and Royal Alec via a little known back entrance located at the foot of Austin St. When we were older we shot pool and got educated in various subjects at the billiards hall in the rear end of the Princess Hotel which was located at about where the Alberta sign is in the Foote picture. I'm wondering if the Princess Hotel was formerly called the Alberta?

The photography that Foote did in the early part of the past century was in the formalist tradition of the time. The subjects were placed firmly in the centre of the frame and looked directly at the lens. The bulky cameras and individual large negatives with slow emulsions weren't conducive to spontaneity either in the photographer or the subject. The more candid shots that Foote took of parades, outdoor celebrations and, most famously, the Winnipeg 1919 Strike were done from a distance where the camera, mounted on a tripod, could be methodically operated with the most efficiency.

When Foote photographed Princess Elizabeth he was at the end of his illustrious career. By then cameras were smaller and films were faster, allowing for more spontaneous photography. Foote's photo of Elizabeth is thoroughly modern in its fortuitous and dynamic arrangement of triangles. The princess and the two uniformed men lead the viewer's eye past the spectators in the roof to the billboard while the motorcade, overhead wires and the drugstore recede into the right side of the frame. Elizabeth's legs, crossed at the ankles, form a delicate triangle that neatly punctuates the picture.

The photograph has the look of a somewhat surreal collage. The princess's posture is so perfectly elegant that it looks like it may have been posed and shot elsewhere and then cut and pasted onto the street scene in Winnipeg. Not knowing who else might be inside the car with the open door and wondering who or what outside the left side of the frame elicited such a lustrous smile from the Princess adds a fine anticipatory tension to the picture.

- John Paskievich

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John Paskievich is a Winnipeg photographer and filmmaker who has yet to get over the savaging of Portage Ave and North Main Street.


  1. Lovely analysis and commentary from Mr. Paskievich. This blog is terrific.

  2. I agree, it was a real treat to read John's entry. His book "The North End" really inspired me to photograph my community and it's one I keep coming back to, and never growing tired of. Thanks John.

  3. Thanks, you two! (I'll pass your compliments along to John...)


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