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Photo Essay

New Sensations from Historical Photography

'Incredible' riches come to Vancouver Gallery of Photography.

By Christopher Grabowski 10 Mar 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Christopher Grabowski's photographs and photo-essays have appeared in various European publications as well as the Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, Financial Times, El Mundo, Utne Reader, Neue Zurcher Zeitung, MacLean's, Ottawa Citizen and Geist. He has received several awards in photojournalism. Among them, the Michener-Deacon Fellowship, Canada's premier award encouraging the pursuit of investigative journalism that serves the public interest.

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André Kertesz joins Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.

Last Wednesday, I took the narrow, wooden stairs to the second floor of the Art Center at 2060 Pine, to enter the Vancouver Gallery of Photography and experienced a kind of déjà vu.

It reminded me of when I walked into the Kunsthal Rotterdam to see the exhibition of about 100 vintage images by American photographer Alfred Stieglitz. In the huge, white-painted exhibition hall, the 5 X 7 inch contact prints were dwarfed and so widely spaced that a visitor could absorb them singularly, in the presence of no other context but white space.

In the cozy Vancouver Gallery of Photography, incredible riches from the history of photography that defy any easy categorization are crowded together. Both Stieglitz and Witkin are present, accompanied by Edward Steichen, Dorothea Lange, Andre Kertesz, Helmut Newton and many other masters.

Many of these pictures we have seen time and again in different publications, but it is an entirely new sensation to encounter them in the vulnerability of the original print with all its nuances, sometimes imperfections and graininess.

There is the famous portrait of Winston Churchill minus his cigar by Yousuf Karsh, tucked in a corner, not far apart from a portrait of Leonard Cohen by Edward Gajdel, printed in a technique I still don't quite understand. There are rarely seen pictures by Nachum Tim Gidal, one of the early photojournalists and documentarians. One of his pictures, taken around 1932, shows Hitler sitting at an outdoor café in Munich, some others, taken about the same time, show daily Jewish life in Poland.

The photographs belong to the collection of Yosef Wosk, Director of Interdisciplinary Programs at SFU and inventor of the Philosophers' Café. It takes someone of immense patience, intuition and capacity for reflection to assemble this kind of collection and I am so glad that Yosef Wosk did it. I am also quite happy that I didn't have to travel to Rotterdam or Berlin to experience it.

The exhibition runs until March 31, 2006, at the Vancouver Gallery of Photography, Pine Street, Vancouver. Additional information: 604-731-5412 or www.artcenter.ca.

Christopher Grabowski is a widely published photojournalist and regular contributor to The Tyee.  [Tyee]

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