Tag Archives: Leonard Frank

Our Pioneers in Colour

Although hand-coloured photographs were originally intended to make monochrome (most frequently referred to as black and white) images look more realistic, today, they are often interpreted as quite the opposite. These photographs are viewed as surreal and unlike contemporary colour photography that we typically associate with more accurate colour.

Hand-painted view of Alta Lake. Philip Collection.

Hand-painted view of Alta Lake, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Whistler Museum holds some fascinating examples of hand-coloured photography. For most of these objects, the craftsmanship is far from superior; however, the fact that these photographs exist from such an early Whistler is marvelous in itself.

Hand-coloured photographs were most popular from the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century – before Kodak introduced Kodachrome colour film. The earliest account of hand-colouring photographs is attributed to Swiss painter and printmaker Johann Baptist Isenring, who began colouring daguerreotypes (one of the first photographic processes) soon after their invention in 1839. Isenring used gum Arabic and pigments to colour his photographs. Typically, watercolours, oils, crayons or other dyes are applied to monochrome image surfaces using brushes, fingers, cotton swabs or airbrushes.

Example of monochrome photograph with and without hand-colouring. Myrtle and Binkie, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Example of monochrome photograph with and without hand-colouring. Myrtle and Binkie, ca. 1930. Philip Collection.

Some particularly interesting and high-quality hand-coloured photographs in our collection are those by photographer Leonard Frank. Frank moved from Germany to North America in 1892 – first to San Francisco and then to our native British Columbia in 1894. At this time he settled in Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, while snapping photographs of locations all over British Columbia. He spent about fifty years here and managed to capture over 50,000 images of our province – and considering the cumbersome photographic equipment of the time, that number is far from slight! Frank would travel through arduous terrain – often on foot – carrying a heavy pack, an 8 x 10 inch Kodak view camera, glass plates and a tripod.

Capilano River, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

Capilano River, ca. 1925. Philip Collection.

Aside from the sheer amount of photographs by Frank, his subject matter was also rather widespread. He photographed everything from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the coastal whaling industry, from the construction of bridges to remote harbours, from political figures in Vancouver to Whistler’s very own pioneers.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941. Philip Collection.

What is often withheld in biographies on Leonard Frank is his heavy ties with Whistler. Frank spent quite a bit of time at Alta Lake and he was a frequent guest of Rainbow Lodge. Furthermore, he was a personal friend to Whistler pioneers Myrtle and Alex Philip.

Myrtle and guest with horses, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Myrtle and guest with horses, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Although tough to know for certain, many of our other hand-coloured photographs in the collection are presumably the craftsmanship of our very own Myrtle Philip, as she frequently dabbled in amateur photography.

Myrtle cooking beside a river, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Myrtle cooking beside a river, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

While all of these images present the idyllic landscapes and pioneer life of Whistler’s past, they also showcase the skill of one of British Columbia’s earliest professional photographers, the variety and uniqueness of hand-colourists, as well as this fascinating time in photographic history.

Whistler Mountain reflected in Alta Lake, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Whistler Mountain reflected in Alta Lake, ca. 1935. Philip Collection.

Leonard Frank: Whistler’s First Pro Photographer

With the incredible advances in digital photography over the last decade, it’s become a cliché that everyone is now a pro photographer. Simply attending the annual Pro Photographer’s Showdown, or browsing the catalogue of one of Whistler’s many true professional photographers, however, will quickly dispel such notions. Still, technology has levelled the playing field to a certain extent, making it quite simple to take competent, even beautiful images with minimal training.

Go back eighty or nintety years and this was most certainly not the case. Cameras were heavy, expensive, cumbersome, and complicated, not to mention the challenges of processing film (remember that stuff?) in the 1920s.

Take the couple of thousand photos we have in the Philip collection. Judging by the sheer quantity of images, it can be safe to assume that Myrtle Philip was a fairly competent amateur photographer for her time. Still, a solid majority of the images are imperfectly focused, overexposed, or awkwardly composed. As documentary artifacts they are wonderful, but for the most part they are lacking  in artfulness.

Scanning through the Philip archives, however, the occasional gem stands out. Crisp images, deliberate composition, some have even been hand-painted to add the magic of colour. These are undeniably the work of a professional.

These images are not the culmination of years of devotion to the photographic arts by Myrtle. Instead they were gifts and mementos from a friend and frequent Rainbow Lodge guest, Leonard Frank.

Leonard Frank, undated self-portrait.

Leonard Frank, undated self-portrait.

Son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers, Leonard Frank was born in Berne, Germany in 1870. Gold fever drew Frank to San Francisco in 1892, then Vancouver Island two years later. Like so many would-be gold barons, his dreams of mineral riches never panned out. As fate would have it though, he won a camera in a raffle, sparking a lifelong passion.

While managing a general store and continuing to prospect, Frank honed his craft taking  pictures of the surrounding countryside. Eventually, in 1917, Frank moved to Vancouver and quickly became the city’s leading commercial photographer, following in his father’s professional footsteps.

North Vancouver's iconic Lions.

North Vancouver’s iconic Lions.

From then until his death in 1944, Frank ‘s diverse photographic catalogue is a crucial document of Vancouver and British Columbia’s history. Beyond his personal and commercial work, he was frequently commissioned to photograph for both the provincial and federal governments, as well as being the official photographer for the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Brandywine Falls from a now inaccessible vantage point, circa 1920s.

Brandywine Falls from a now inaccessible vantage point, circa 1920s.

A boater's view of Rainbow Lodge and Rainbow Mountain.

A boater’s view of Rainbow Lodge and Rainbow Mountain.

Frank’s Alta Lake images in our collection span from the 1920s until the 1940s, indicating multiple trips to the valley. For the most part it is unclear whether the images were commissioned by the Philips to promote Rainbow Lodge, were commissioned by other parties, or were taken on his own volition.

The following image, surely one of the most beautiful in our entire collection, is accompanied by a typed note “Presented to Mr. and Mrs. Alex Philip, with my compliments, Leonard Frank, A.R.P.S.” ARPS is short for “Associate of the Royal Photographic Society.” Frank was the first British Columbian bestowed with this honour.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941.

Alex Philip takes some Rainbow Lodge guests for a paddle down the River of Golden Dreams, 1941.

From today’s perspective, where visual media is such a crucial tourism-promotion tool, these photographs are of heightened historical interest. Leonard Frank was the first professional photographer in a town that has become known for its abundance of pro photographers.

By any standard, Frank’s images expertly portray an idyllic destination amidst a grand, inspiring landscape. In his own way, he contributed to the Whistler Valley’s development as a nature-tourism destination, and led the way for dozens of others who have made  a living capturing our valley’s natural charms.

For more information about Leonard Frank, and examples of his images, check the Vancouver Public Library‘s extensive Leonard Frank Collection, this short blog post by Miss 604,  or try to track down a copy of the 1990 book An Enterprising Life : Leonard Frank Photographs, 1895-1944 by Cyril E. Leonoff.

Postcards of the Whistler Museum Archives – Pt.1

There’s something undeniably intriguing about old postcards and the stories behind them. This week and next we will be featuring some of the postcards found in our archives, and we invite you to comment and offer your own interpretations of their contents. Next week’s post will cover correspondance between members of the Tapley and Philip families.

First up is this fascinating postcard with a bit of a mysterious background we like to call “One big tree!”

A 117-year-old mystery

Although this photograph doesn’t show a tree near Whistler (and possibly not even a tree near Vancouver), it is in the Philip collection, and was given to either Myrtle or Alex at some point.

The photograph in this postcard is purportedly from 1895, and shows several people posing on a giant felled fir tree (again, according to the postcard). The caption reads, “This fir giant measured 417 ft. in height with a clear 300 ft. to the first limb. At the butt it was 25 ft. through with bark 16 in. thick. Its circumference being 77 ft.; 207 ft. from the ground its diameter was 9 feet. Felled near Vancouver in August ’95 by George Cary, who is seen upon the ladder.”

This is one mysterious image – there appears to be a great deal of folklore surrounding the “Cary Fir” which even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Read this article and response for yourself and decide what you believe: http://www.spirasolaris.ca/DouglasFir.pdf.

Our next postcard is a bit out of season, but we thought we’d share it regardless…

Leonard Frank’s Vancouver

This Christmas postcard showing an early view of Vancouver (sans skyscrapers) reads, “Wishing you a Merry Xmas and a happy and victorious 1943.” The card itself is signed by Leonard Frank, and the photograph is likely his, as he was a well-known photographer in British Columbia in the early half of the 20th century.

When this card was produced, World War II was in full swing, and wishing for a victorious year was a common sentiment.

Frank originally hailed from Germany, and was the son of one of Germany’s earliest professional photographers. Struck by gold fever in 1892, he traveled to North America – living first in San Francisco and then Port Alberni on Vancouver Island.

A camera won as a raffle prize shifted his direction entirely, and he moved to Vancouver in 1917, quickly becoming the leading commercial/industrial photographer in the city.

Frank also spent quite a bit of time at Alta Lake, and several of his photographs of the surrounding area can be found in the Museum archives. A frequent guest of Rainbow Lodge, he was also a friend of Myrtle and Alex Philip, to whom he sent this postcard.

For more information on Leonard Frank, see www.vpl.ca/frank/biography.html

This Sunday, keep an eye out for the Museum staff in the Canada Day Parade dressed as postcards from around the world!