Our World in Pictures: Books of Photographs

Several great books of photographs have recently made their way to the shelves of the library, and they are worth more than a single look, especially when they include local historical content.


First, is the excellent Imagining Winnipeg: History Through the Photographs of L.B. Foote  by Esyllt Jones, about our city’s most renowned commercial photographer.  Originally from Newfoundland, Lewis Foote settled in Winnipeg and during a decades-spanning career recorded images of the small everyday aspects of life as well as historical events like the General Strike and the 1939 royal visit.  I am a big fan of books like these as they serve as time capsules, revealing how our world used to be in ways that text can’t.

Another much older and rarer example of such book that is also available at the library is the 1903 Illustrated Souvenir of Winnipeg, which consists of almost 200 pages of contemporary Winnipeg buildings, streets, and people as they were over a century ago.  Shots of Broadway Avenue show an unpaved street lined with residential houses and tiny young trees that had only recently been planted.

Portraits of Winnipeg: the River City in Pen and Ink by Robert J. Sweeney is a book for those who prefer drawn illustrations to photographs, and it is all about the familiar landmarks of the city.

If you prefer photos with vivid colors and nature landscapes over urban architecture, then Mike Grandmaison’s Prairie and Beyond by Mike Grandmaison will be more to your taste.  The overall feel of Grandmaison’s work is a mix of uplifting natural beauty with elements of the melancholy from decaying farm structures, witness to a fading age.

In the same vein but with a broader setting, Roads by Mark Schacter attempts to tell a story of Canadian communities from coast to coast, the roads that link them, and the people who use them.  The natural environment — trees, lakes, fields — is a constant element of the pictures.  The author also offer insights about what inspired him while traveling cross-country to gather his material.


Pictorial works can also be about an urgent need to bear witness and trying to be an agent of change.  Edward S. Curtis Above the Medicine Line: Portraits of Aboriginal Life in the Canadian West by Rodger D. Touchie presents a portion of the immense photographic work of Edward Curtis, who set out to capture for history the way of life of First Nation peoples over a span of decades.

100 Places to Go Before They Disappear is all about raising awareness by showcasing places threatened with destruction by climate change.  The list of endangered locations spans the entire world and includes not only natural environments like forests, but also human environments, like historical neighbourhoods, coastal cities, and ways of lives threatened with extinction.  It’s a poignant read, as the pictures of the various locations come with explanations of what is at stake and how climate change may threaten them.

Great American Cities Past and Present by Rick Sapp and Brian Solomon mixes the past and present, juxtaposing photographs of U.S. cities to illustrate how they developed, both for better and for worse, from the 19th century to now.  Sometimes the photographs illustrate the explosive growth of industry and population, but other pictures show the decline of once thriving manufacturing centres and the destruction of heritage architecture in the name of expediency.  Seeing some of these photos, you can’t help but thinking how the growth of cities mirrors that of a tree, with each “ring” telling the stories of its past.

As always, I am interested in your own suggestions.  What else is there to see?


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