Monday, April 16, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: Bronwen Quarry

Foote 157 is not really my favourite. I don’t actually have one. Perhaps it is that I have seen the photographs too many times.

As an archivist at the Archives of Manitoba I have often helped clients in the Research Room with their own searches for the perfect photograph of an event or place. If they have not already heard of Foote, I will invariably direct them to (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say I insist that they look at) the Foote photos. Without fail they become distracted by the other images, slowly browsing through the rest of the files. More often than not they leave as a newly converted Foote fan, cheerfully declaring or muttering distractedly that they’ll have to come back when they have more time.

Every time I open the drawer a new Foote photo speaks to me. So why pick this one rather than any of the other 2,500 in our holdings? This photograph happens to speak to me on both a professional and on a personal level. From an archival perspective, the significance of the Foote photographs lies not in the individual images (no matter how skilfully taken the photo or how important its contents) but rather in the body of records as a whole.

Foote 157 does not depict a historically significant event such as the strike or a well-known place or group of people. It is just one of many great shots representative of what Foote was most often doing which was taking photographs of the everyday. His body of records documents several decades of life in Winnipeg. Foote 157 really doesn’t stick out and so embodies what is great about the Foote collection – that so many people find something to relate to in his photographs. Even when just browsing, researchers often find something they recognize. Sometimes it is not obvious and it is only the description that tells the viewer what they are looking at.

Foote 157 depicts Fire Station #14 at the corner of Lipton and Westminster, a building I have passed by many times on walks through Wolseley. Although admittedly the focus of this photo is the firemen, the corner featured is the very spot I have walked by countless times and it gave me a thrill when I first recognized it. I love that building and I love that the Foote collection has something that I can so personally relate to. (And yes, it is a great shot of the firemen too!)

So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Foote 157 is my favourite today, and I am certain when I go to slip it back in the drawer I will find another.

- Bronwen Quarry

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Bronwen Quarry is an archivist with the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba. A large part of her job involves making the photographs in the holdings of the HBC Archives available to the public. Her MA thesis at the University of Manitoba was entitled “Photo-graph/Writing with Light: The Challenge to Archivists of Reading Photographs.”

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