Tag Archives: photographic history

Cameras and Museums: How Photographs Help Preserve History

No one can deny that Whistler is an extremely photogenic place.  With the valley’s majestic mountains, clear blue lakes, and abundant wildlife, it has been a beautiful getaway for lovers of the outdoors for over a century.  Many changes have taken place over those years, and the Whistler Museum and Archives Society (WMAS) is fortunate to have an extensive photo collection that documents most of it.  It is amazing how much the valley has changed over the decades, and the ability to actually see the differences through photographs is a great asset for the preservation of Whistler’s history.

A display of 1980s ski fashion, captured by photographer Greg Griffith.

If any of you follow the Whistler Museum on social media, you know that we have some very interesting photos in our archives.  One of our largest photo collections is the Greg Griffith Collection.  Greg Griffith is an Australian-born photographer who moved to Whistler in 1973 to ski.  He went on to have a successful careers in photography, showcasing Whistler’s natural beauty and documenting over 30 years of Whistler’s history.  Donated to the Whistler Museum in 2009, the collection is made up of thousands of Whistler-related photographs, ranging in subject from skiing and snowboarding competitions, to mountain tours and dramatic scenery.

Another of the Museum’s larger photo collections is the George Benjamin Collection, which was donated in 2010.  George Benjamin is a semi-professional photographer, who moved to Whistler in 1970 after staying in Toad Hall for a ski vacation.  He co-owned a well-known cabin called Tokum Corners until the 1980s and opened a photography store called the Photo Cell in Creekside, following after his family members, who owned a photo-finishing business in Ontario.  He lived in Whistler until the 1980s, and took many impressive photographs of the area during his time here.

George Benjamin captures the scene at Jordan’s Lodge on Nita Lake in the 1970s.

The Museum is also proud to house the Philip Collection, which includes photographs taken during the Rainbow Lodge era.  These photos illustrate the beauty of Whistler while it was still an undeveloped fishing retreat, and offer an interesting comparison between the Whistler Valley of the early- to mid-nineteenth century, and the Whistler of today.

Myrtle and Alex Philip stand outside Rainbow Lodge in the 1930s. Philip Collection.

There are so many other aspects of the WMAS photo collection that we won’t be able to cover in this article, but they all play an enormous part in illustrating the valley’s colourful history.  From early horseback riding trips, to present-day Crankworx festivals, the trusty camera is always there to help preserve our history.  The WMAS collection currently includes over 170,000 photographs, which may seem like a lot, but we are always looking for more.  We are especially eager for photographs related to snowboarding and mountain biking in Whistler, photographs documenting life as mountain staff members, as well as photographs from the 1990s to the present.  With the tenth anniversary of the Olympics coming up, we’re hoping to expand our Olympic photographs collection, too.  Any photographs related to Whistler are extremely useful, though, and if you’re interested in donating to the Museum, please get in contact with us!  You can send an email to our archivist, Alyssa Bruijns, at archives @ whistlermuseum.org.  We would love to be able to add your photos and stories to the larger Whistler narrative.

If you’re interested in viewing part of our photo collection, you can go to www.whistlermuseum.smugmug.com, where you can order prints of any archival photo we have digitized.  You can also follow us on Facebook or Instagram, where we often feature photographs from the WMAS collection.

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.