Futureperfect

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Camp 2, The Pas Lumber Company, Manitoba
Pearse and Edworthy Lumber Mill, Peesane, Saskatchewan
William John James, James, photograph, Black and white photograph, gelatin silver print, labour, record, history, documentation, loggers, logging, saw mill, environmental, forest, shift in perception, cultural factors, lumber mill, meaning change, time, photography, wide view, panoramic view, gelatin silver print photograph,lumber company, civilization, pioneer spirit, technology, culture, reading a work of art, the Pas, Manitoba,
description

In these historical images by William James we see two images likely taken during one of his road trips to the lumber camps around Prince Albert. James himself worked in one of the larger sawmills near Prince Albert, and this familiarity with the work may have made it easier for him to enter the camps and ask the workers to stop and pose for a photograph.

During Prince Albert’s early years forestry was the community’s largest industry. Several mills operated in the area, employing hundreds of men in the summer, and as many as four times that number during the winter months. Much of the winter labour was supplied by homesteaders who needed a second source of income until their farm was established, and sometimes afterwards. Many of the men in the top photo, standing in a line with the tools they used likely came from farms and ranches in the district. (One of the floats in a 1917 parade in Prince Albert consisted primarily of a log, as if it were an  iconLoosely, a picture; a sculpture, or even a building, when regarded as an object of veneration. (Artlex.com)  of economic well-being.)

As the top photo depicts, logging was hard, physical work. The trees were felled, stripped of their branches and cut into lengths in the forest. The logs were then transported to frozen lakes and rivers to await the spring breakup. The logs were then transported by water to the mills to be processed.  The bottom photo shows a sawmill in a clearing in the forest, with logs stored on the left, and a line of men standing in front of the mill on the right. James’ photographs emphasize the importance of manual labour, as opposed to the machinery inside the mills. We see the raw product, rather than the finished lumber.

Both images are notable for the impressive panoramic view that James has given us. James used a Kodak Cirkut camera - a complex and difficult machine to operate - to capture these images. Powered by a clockwork motor, the camera rotated on its tripod while the film moved past a slit inside the camera. The  cameraIn photography, a tool for producing photographs, having a lightproof enclosure with an aperture and a shuttered lens through which the image of an object is focused and recorded on a photosensitive film or plate. In video, a device that receives the primary image on a light-sensitive cathode tube and transforms it into electrical impulses. (Artlex.com) Find out about 35-mm cameras at Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/135_film  had to be carefully leveled and was often placed on a high tripod about three metres high.  Despite its size and weight, the Cirkut camera was well suited to the photographing of towns, cities, farms, logging operations and special events from which James derived a large part of his income. The long horizontal format was a good fit with the prairie environment.

Most of James’s panoramic images were taken between 1919 and 1927, during the period he had sold his business in Prince Albert. Although a few of the panoramas may have been commissioned, most were made on speculation, in the hope that they could be sold to the people he portrayed, or to the companies operating the mills. If they did sell, these images would usually be exhibited in the home of the purchaser or in company offices. In these situations they would function as private images.

While these photographs do tell us something of the social and economic history of Prince Albert and area during a specific period of time, we must remember that James was making images to make a living. We may be tempted to read other narratives into the artist’s work (taming the wilderness, etc.) that the artist was unaware of or didn’t intend, but we would do well not to apply our own cultural lenses too rigidly to James’s images of life and work in early Saskatchewan.

 

additional resources Things to Think About
Studio Activity

William James’ photographs of times gone by (Camp 2, The Pas Lumber Company, Manitoba, and Pearse and Edworthy Lumber Mill, Peesane, Saskatchewan) cause us to ask how meaning might change over time.

Time capsule

  • Build a time capsule using objects that you have around you now, or objects that represent your current time.  It could include:
  • Put these all into a box or a container of some kind, decorate the box and label it with the current year.

  • Bury the box or lock it away in a safe place.

  • After a period of time, dig the box out and examine its contents. This period of time could be a year, 10 years, or 50 years.  The more time you're willing to wait, the more surprising the contents will be to you!

 

References

Arnold, Grant. ‘Photography, William James, and Life in early Saskatchewan.’ In William James: Selected Photographs 1900-1936. Exhibition catalogue. Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1986.

Silversides, Brock. ‘The Life of William James.’ In William James: Selected Photographs 1900-1936. Exhibition catalogue. Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1986.

 

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning