My father was born in 1927 into the sepia and grey-toned world that Foote's photos captured like a bug in a mason jar. So many interesting things going on in there. It was a small commercial miracle, notewothy and slightly impossible. In the forties, mini-entrepreneurs stalked the streets of every city of any size and offered to "take your picture", then hand you a fancy calling card announcing where the results could be purchased. Say, at a near by department store where you may become inclined to browse. Well, not everyone had cameras and the alchemy that is photography gave one existential pause.
"I was over there, but now I'm here, yet I can
see myself as I have recently been." Or, more astonishingly, I can see
them as they were; a handy portable piece of witchcraft on paper where
even the deceased live in permanent evidence of what we did that day.
grandfather was born in 1892 and fully inhabited the world Foote knew.
He was a full-share partner in the development of that world. They were
kids in Brandon which, at the time, had a population of maybe seven or
eight thousand primarily Britishers who took pride in their sense of
organization, and for the most part, always wore a specific kind of hat.
He went off to war in one, he and my great uncle, lying about their age
(they were only 16) but that didn't prevent him from being capture by
the Germans and spending many months in an unexpectedly accommodating
P.O.W. camp. There were amenities: musical instruments and some guy from
a nearby village who, like Foote, would take the band's photo so you
could send it home to the missus.
So Foote and the people like
him, had a new gadget of fascination and anything was a reasonable target
from the mundane to the most cunning of stunts. Some of Foote's works
clearly predates "Everyone say 'cheese'" and its subjects appear to
just mildly tolerate the invasive box while others are clearly posed,
amused and ready to have even more great fun!
My father's great
chum in Brandon was a lad named John Robertson. Together, they would run
around the back lanes and streets of the west side of Brandon. Don't
expect that they were up to mischief; they were just running around
unfettered by the constraints of the mantle of responsibility that came
with being an older boy of, say, fifteen. Since they were only nine and
ten the worldly cosmos of encroaching maturity had yet to grab them by
the coveralls and shake the dreamy dust of boyhood out of them. So, they
just ran around and did things. They did, however, have pigeons and
would get together to discuss different breeds and their qualities. One
quality my father found particularly disturbing was that they tasted
pretty good and grandmother (his mum) would occasionally prepare squab.
Knowing each of his feathered charges personally, my father railled
against the black fates that he was unable to control and the unfairness
of it all let alone the barbaric horror of having to eat his friend.
this idyllic garden can never last and just assuredly as spring will
melt into summer, both John and George were growing up. It was time to
get a hat.
But look at the hats! Look at Foote's photo of, say,
the Winnipeg General Strike. By golly, you don't get that many men
together in their sharp fedoras, slouches and bowlers without a serious
commitment to common purpose. Don't tell me they didn't mean business.
And just look at the hats!
- PJ Burton
* * *
PJ Burton was born in Winnipeg in 1952 and received his teaching
degree at the University of Alberta in 1979. During a brief stopover
in Edmonton, he appeared on SCTV as a drummer in an Earl Camembert
sketch, and again in Mel's Rock Pile. When he moved back to Winnipeg in
1980, he formed the band The Smarties. Soon after he put together
Winnipeg's legendary showband The Chocolate Bunnies From Hell. He
currently teaches at West Kildonan Collegiate and performs regularly
with his band.