Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gone Swimming!

On the end of March, Dale Barbour wrote a post about one of Foote’s many photos of the beaches and resorts north of Winnipeg on Lake Manitoba. Dale talked about a shot of Winnipeg Beach from 1914.

It was a crowded scene, with people in old-fashioned bathing suits filling the beach and spilling out into the water. Despite what must have been a very hot day, looking out at us from a corner of the photo is an older man dressed in a dark, three-piece suit. Dale speculated that this might be L.B. Foote himself, sneaking into the frame.

That photo is from 1912 when Foote was under forty – certainly not a sedate, elderly gent who stands back from all the action.

To prove my theory, I thought I’d share a photo of what Foote actually looked like in a bathing suit. Taken circa 1915, a few years after Dale's beach photo, it features Foote at one of Winnipeg’s newer public baths, swimming and splashing around with his wife and two sons and some other family or friends. He is clearly a vigorous and lively fellow – not to mention someone who seems to enjoy the water.

Foote was a tall, lanky fellow with a crooked grin. In the bulky suits that men of all classes seemed to wear in those days, he could have been mistaken for someone who spent his life behind a desk. But he must have actually been an incredibly active and physical man. You can see it a bit in this swimming photo, but his energy and daring is implied throughout many of his photos well until the end of the1920s. Over and over again, he is finding some high perch to take his shots from. I imagine that often he would just clamor up ladder (probably rickety) that might be handy or balance himself on an angle off the nearest available roof. One of my favorites is the photo on the cover of Imagining Winnipeg, taken from the top of the very slanted roof of the Fort Gary Hotel. Foote is up there somehow with the workers on the hotel’s new copper roof, 14 stories off the ground, with his bulky camera. And then a few years later he somehow follows the surging crowds of the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike from spot to spot, again finding a high vantage whenever he can to get a better look.

Despite the thousands of photos he left, we really know so little about Foote or who he was. But the physical energy and the youthful daring that went into so many of his photos – plus that mischievous but shy smile – give us a hint.

- David Carr

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David Carr is the director of the University of Manitoba Press.

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