Thursday, August 30, 2018

12th Canadian Challenge - Photo Books

I'm running very far behind on this blog, which includes being late on the reviews.  I'll try to catch up a bit with a double review of two illustrated books on Vancouver: Vancouver Was Awesome by Lani Russwurm and Vancouver in the Seventies edited by Kate Bird.

Neither book provides a true overview of the history of the city, though Vancouver in the Seventies is clear on what it covers.  It is more peculiar that Vancouver was Awesome stops so short, with almost nothing written about events after the early 1970s.  The anti-freeway fight does get a bit of a mention, and that arguably went on into the mid 1970s.  I was expecting the last chapter to at least cover Expo 1986, which in many people's minds marked the true turning point of Vancouver into the city of glass, marked by lots of global investment in its real estate market.  For a companion piece to Vancouver Was Awesome covering the post-1986 Vancouver scene, one could turn to Douglas Coupland's City of Glass, which I discussed briefly at the end of this post (incidentally before I officially started reviewing Canadian books).  Nonetheless, that still leaves a bit of a gap that needs to be filled.

Vancouver Was Awesome is actually a compilation of posts on Vancouver history from the website Vancouver Is Awesome.  The book appears to collect post through late 2013, though Russwurm seems to have written posts through early 2015, so some posts are left out of the book.  The book has a lot of the same issues as Wikipedia in that it covers a lot of human interest stories related to Vancouver, but probably focuses too much on celebrities* and not enough on broader historical trends.  It is also very odd (to me) to not discuss anything after 1976.  The vast majority of photos are black and white, though there are a few colour ones towards the end of the book (none by Fred Herzog, however).  It's a fun book to flip through, but I don't think it really succeeds as a history, even a popular history, of Vancouver.  There is a reasonably good balance between the photos and the text.

In contrast, Vancouver in the Seventies is essentially all black and white photos with captions.  Each year has its own section.  There are certainly some celebrity shots, either musicians or British royals passing through, as well as a few photos of Pierre Trudeau at some Vancouver event.  But most of the photos are local -- a bike race, children playing on the street, fans lining up for Star Wars, etc.  No question my favourites are those where the main emphasis is on downtown Vancouver architecture.  While it isn't immediately apparent from the cover, the photos are all from the photo files of the Vancouver Sun.  There are a few more 70s photos that the Sun has gathered together here, along with a link to order the book.  Both books are interesting, though I am somewhat more drawn to Vancouver in the Seventies, as the quality of the images is better and it is more clear about what it is attempting to do.

* It's hard to get the balance right.  It's probably worth mentioning the major jazz club in Vancouver (and who passed through), but it is less clear that it is worth covering celebrities that passed through Vancouver but made it big in the States (notably Boris Karloff and Jimi Hendrix).  Yvonne De Carlo is one of the very few true homegrown Vancouver celebrities (and Malcolm Lowry did write much of his work in Vancouver and North Vancouver), though this is clearly not sufficient for Russwurm.  She even use up one of her posts on Hunter S. Thompson, who contemplated moving to Vancouver but then decided against it!

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