Friday, March 30, 2012

Favourite Foote Photos: Dale Barbour

I was drawn to this picture because the crowd is so delightfully relaxed. So often in beach pictures from the turn of the century, it seems as if the people have stepped out for an evening at the opera. They wear dresses or suits and ties. The men always have a hat. They clearly saw a journey to the lakeside as a special event; it was far more often a place to promenade than it was a place to swim. Proper decorum reigned supreme.

But promenading seems like the last thing on the minds of this group; though the figures walking the boardwalk behind them suggest that there was still much promenading to be had. Some people are dressed in suits, but others are decked out in bathing suits and showing a healthy amount of skin. Most of them have doffed their hats, some have even thrown on a casual robe and there’s a young man with a cigarettes hanging out of his mouth.

To me, this picture captures a moment of transition at Winnipeg Beach when the upper-middle class character of the beach, a character that Foote has captured with other pictures of cabins and regattas, was giving way to a more mixed class experience and when the boundaries between how and when men and women could get together were starting to shift. Snapped in 1912, this picture captures the dawn of the free wheeling Winnipeg Beach that people would know in the 1920s and into the early 1950s.

But this seems to me to be still a moment of transition. Men and women are scattered together on the beach in comfortable camaraderie. And yet, very few of them are holding hands. They are together and yet apart. Indeed, our most demonstrative couple is a pair of women at the front of the picture—one smiles for the camera as the other drapes an arm on her shoulder. But there does appear to be a woman in a white dress with her hand wrapped around a man in a hat just behind them. (Or is the woman in the white dress really a man in white robe? Further playing with our view of the picture.)

Finally, where is Foote in all of this? I desperately want to believe that the man on the left side of the picture is really Foote; that he was so enthralled with the scene in front of him that he couldn’t resist including himself within it. I’m wrong, of course; the man in the photo is too old to be Foote, who was not yet 40 in 1912. Still, I’ll choose to believe that after he snapped the picture, Foote waded into the crowd; unable to resist enjoying his own day at the beach.

- Dale Barbour

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Dale Barbour grew up on a farm in Balmoral, Manitoba and made a few trips of his own to Winnipeg Beach as a youth. A former journalist, he is currently completing a PhD in history at the University of Toronto. His first book, Winnipeg Beach: Leisure and Courtship in a Resort Town, 1900-1967 (UMP, 2011), was recently nominated for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award at the Manitoba Book Awards. It was also nominated in the Local History category in the MHS' Margaret McWilliams Awards.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Favourite Foote Photo: Danna Slessor-Cobb

1914 Soldier Saying Goodbye to his Mother has become one of my favourites for all the things I don’t know about it. It remains a puzzle that I would like to solve. The style of this photo is not typical of Foote and it is that very difference that drew me to it in the archives. It was the composition that focuses the viewer’s attention on the figures and highlights the face of the woman within the embrace that struck me initially. After learning that Foote worked for a short time in Hollywood doing film stills and publicity shots I realized that that is why I wanted to learn more. This is photo was staged but it looks as though it was personal. There was more going on underneath the surface that made me come back.

In the archives the label on the photograph reads Soldier in Embrace. The card catalog reads 1914 soldier saying goodbye to his mother. Which is the correct title? Perhaps a better question to ask is: Is there a correct title? Imposed categorizations on photographs often shift the intended meaning and present very different images of wartime Winnipeg. A soldier in embrace explains what he is doing but not the significance of the photograph. Soldier saying goodbye to his mother elicits a far different response from a viewer. It has become personal rather than a normalized stock shot. Appealing to the personal can be the most effective means of advertising. The identity of the woman and soldier are unknown they therefore have the ability to appeal to a wide audience, which would have been essential during the ever present fundraising drives of the First World War. The fact that the soldier is dressed in full highland regalia cemented the fact for me that this photo was meant as an advertisement or recruitment photo. Foote was a technical wonder but he was a master at using visual communication to express what was going on at the time. This photo quickly and effortlessly appeals to Winnipeggers' British roots and commonwealth identity at the outbreak of the war.

The ability of photography to act as propaganda is well established but I was so excited to see it in a Winnipeg context! The magic of the archives for all students and researchers is the puzzles that await for you to solve them. I am glad that there is such a wealth of photographs to study, confuse and ultimately challenge me within the Foote fond and tell me more about Winnipeg than I ever knew before.

- Danna Slessor-Cobb

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Danna Slessor-Cobb is (almost!) finished the first year of an MA in Archival Studies at the University of Manitoba. She is pursuing a thesis in Photographic archives with a focus on curatorial standards and education. Slessor-Cobb has an undergraduate degree in history and art history and has been involved in art and art education in Winnipeg for the past 10 years.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Found Foote Photo #6: Postcards!

I was excited when this email arrived in my inbox from a vintage postcard collector:

"I just acquired this Foote & James portrait postcard. (It has 'Foote & James, Winnipeg' embossed in the lower left corner.)

It makes sense that they would offer postcards of their portrait photos - as postal rates for postcards were cheaper than for letter mail. Images on postcards were the most cost-effective way to send your fiends/relatives an image of yourself.

Several companies sold photographic paper with pre-printed postcard imprinting on the reverse side to photographers.

This is helpful for us postcard collectors to approximate the age of postcards, like this one, which were never mailed. This particular one has an AZO Stamp Box - with four squares in the corners.

Using online resources (like this site:, we can come up at least with date ranges for cards produced on the more popular photographic postcard papers.

In this case, the Foote & James portrait card was made sometime after 1926 through to the 1940s."

- Rob McInnes, Postcard Accumulator and Purveyor

Monday, March 19, 2012

Favourite Foote Photo: Erna Buffie

My grandfather, like these men, was a railway worker and a musician - a machinist and a violinist, to be precise. But you won’t find him in this photograph. I suspect that the color bar of the 1920s was much too powerful an obstruction to allow a white musician to play in a black band, let alone the reverse.

How sad.

And yet I see no sadness in the faces of the porters and musicians in this wonderful Foote photograph. I see only joy, dignity and the same intelligent intensity that I saw on my grandfather’s face, when he held his violin and stared at a camera.

I find myself wondering what tunes this band would have played. "Tiger Rag?" Louis Armstrong's “St James Infirmary?” Maybe "Frankie and Johnny" or the iconic "After You've Gone." Songs that I still love to sing with my family. I also find myself wondering whether or not my grandfather heard these men play at one of their 50 cent matinees or evening concerts at The Dominion Theatre. Did he and his own dance band, like so many other white bands in history, steal songs from the repertoire of these minstrels?

Minstrels. It’s a loaded term when used in this context, and yet it’s original medieval meaning is completely benign – “a singer, musician or poet who traveled from place to place giving performances.” And in that sense, these men and my grandfather were minstrels, traveling performers who, despite the vast divide of racism that separated them, shared at least one thing in common – their love of music.

- Erna Buffie

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An award-winning filmmaker and writer, Erna Buffie lived for twenty years in Montreal, spent seven years in Halifax and returned to her hometown, Winnipeg, in December 2010. Sometimes, when it's -32 in the sun, she asks herself why she returned, but most of the time she's quite happy about it. Her British-born grandfather, George Leach, emigrated to Winnipeg in 1912 and died at the age of 82, when Erna was eleven. She'd give anything to talk to him, even for just a few hours, so she could ask all the questions she had neither the knowledge, nor the inclination to ask, when she was a child. Erna's next documentary, "Smarty Plants: Uncovering the Secret Wolrd of Plant Behaviour" airs Thursday, March 22 on CBC TV's The Nature of Things.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Losing...and Finding

Hey all,

This is just a brief note to say that production for the University of Manitoba Press' spring titles has recently put a crimp in Lost Foote Photos' style.

If you're curious, UMP's reprints of Jennifer Reid's Louis Riel and the Creation of Modern Canada and Erika Dyck's Psychedelic Psychiatry: LSD on the Canadian Prairies are both available.

The last few weeks have been spent putting the finishing touches on Robin Jarvis Brownlie & Valerie J. Korinek's Finding a Way to the Heart: Feminist Writings on Aboriginal and Women’s History in Canada, which will be due out in April and Larry Krotz' Piecing the Puzzle: The Genesis of AIDS Research in Africa, which will come out in May.

But we've got lots of found photos to share and several favourite Foote photo columns from archivists and artists and historians on the way.

David Carr, U of M Press' director, even has a story to tell about another visit to a small archive where he uncovered Foote photos.

So be patient with us, this week and next, and come back!


Ariel Gordon
UMP Promotions/Editorial Assistant

Monday, March 5, 2012

Countours: Two Visions of Early Winnipeg

As you'll recall, filmmaker Jeff McKay contributed a Favourite Foote Photo to this blog.

In it, he talks about how he and his partner Laszlo Markovics selected photos for what would become the documentary, Contours: Two Visions of Early Winnipeg (2009).

"L.B Foote and L.L. FitzGerald both lived in worked in Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th century when Winnipeg was one of the fastest-growing cities in North America. Foote was a commercial photographer and FitzGerald a painter who often depicted the same scenes, yet they represent two completely different ways of seeing the city they called their home. Both Foote and FitzGerald left a legacy of thousands of evocative images with the city as their muse as they experienced its development first hand."

Jeff was kind enough to allow us to share this clip from Contours, which features a voiceover by historian Doug Smith.

A film by Jeff McKay and Laszlo Markovics
New Projects Inc. © 2009