Vancouver. "Beautiful British Columbia," or so our license plate
has it all. The home of mountains, the gateway to the Pacific and the soon
to be host of the 2010 Olympic games. Vancouver was recently voted the
World's most livable City. High praise indeed considering Vancouver's
downtown eastside (the crux of which is located at the intersection of Main
street and Hastings street) is also known by locals as "Pain and Wastings".
The eastside is the proverbial thorn in the side of most Vancouver politicians.
City officials should be the first to tell you that little if anything
has been done to help the world's most livable city's eastside residents, whether
the area residents actually have a residential address or not. Some organizations
and private groups however are in fact prepared to help.
A few years ago while walking through Vancouver's central library
I read a call for contributors for a weekly newspaper called The
Street. The Street was a paper produced by volunteers and sold around
Vancouver by the people whom the paper was created to help - the
homeless. In addition to writers and illustrators the paper required
photographers. I contacted the editor and he convinced me to provide
a him with a CD of images. Within a few weeks The Street was running
some of my photos. My job here was done, or so I thought.
Full with a sense of self importance and armed with a vehicle to
display my work, I started to stray away from the point of the publication.
I thought that the poverty stricken eastside should only be portrayed
as a raw urban ghetto, which was a misinterpretation of the what
the editors wanted. Soon, I noticed that my photos weren't finding
their way to the pages each week. I also noticed that the few photos
that did make the cut were photos of beautiful subject matter, or
photographs that presented their subjects in a positive light. It
was around this time that I decided to put the gritty and often
bleak black and white photos on the shelf and focus instead on colour.
Although it may seem a bit hackneyed and derivative I set out to
find the beauty of the downtown eastside.
The eastside contains most of Vancouver's precious little, older
architecture. In an effort to gentrify the surrounding area and
perhaps taking a page out Castro's book, many of the buildings have
been painted bright happy colours. This neighborhood provides an
oasis from the glass monstrosities that dot the Vancouver skyline.
Finding interesting things to shoot isn't hard, but being concerned
about some of the area drug dealers and drug addicts can be.
I was recently asked how the people in the neighborhood reacted
presence and I must say that over the last few years I've encountered almost
no problems. People have been more than happy to tell a story or offer advice
as to where one should shoot. As I started to become more familiar with residents
I though that perhaps I should stray from photographing people. I thought that
always photographing people was becoming somewhat exploitative, and that instead
I should focus on abstract photography. For lack of a better term, I set out
to make painterly prints. I decided to approach this without the help of a
digital camera, sticking instead with film and staying away from Photoshop.
This year some of my photos were used by a photographic society
in Dublin, Ireland. Many of the shots I had used in The Street newspaper
were displayed by this Irish photo group. The name of their show
was "The Urban Experience". I was pleased that they would
choose to use my colourful shots in a show dedicated to sober realism.
Maybe there was a place for my work and perhaps urban photography
doesn't always have to be harsh and miserable.
I like when people comment on my photos as being happy, colourful
if not a bit gaudy. I like it even more when people ask where I
took the photos. A famous Vancouver photographer once said to me
that you should shoot your own backyard. Why go off traveling all
over the place when you've got beautiful subject matter on every
street corner? On every street corner. Truer words have
never been spoken.
Barrett was born in Birmingham, England and raised in Vancouver's
Westend. A self taught photographer, he chooses to leave
his work untouched and presented as it was originally produced.
Byron's work has appeared in such diverse publications as
PHOTOgraphic magzine, Toronto's Kiss Machine and Vancouver's own
Magazine. His photos often focus on confinement, and much
of his work examines how
our environment subtly coerces us into fixed patterns of behaviour.