Tuesday, 31 December 2013 10:57

Photographic exhibition provides unique perspective

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
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That time-worn adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” will certainly apply to the upcoming exhibition at the Art Gallery of Swift Current (AGSC).


The exhibition Expressions of a Community opens on Jan. 4 and runs until Feb. 23. This collection of photographic images has been arranged in recognition of the centennial celebrations during 2014 to commemorate the official incorporation of Swift Current as a city on Jan. 15, 1914.
“We wanted to present an artful exhibition that directly celebrated the Centennial Day and the community,” AGSC Director and Curator Kim Houghtaling said.
In recent years, he became aware of some wonderful images of life in Swift Current that varies from professional and art photographs to amateur snapshots. These photographs depict places and people, a variety of events as well as images of disasters.
He had to select from literally thousands of photographs in the Swift Current Museum archives. His aim was to pick out images with a certain esthetic quality and visual impact.
“So what I chose to do is to bring together those highly- expressive historical images and present them as an album of the community and its history,” he said.
There will be more than 60 photographs in the exhibition. According to Houghtaling, it was a real challenge to make a final selection from all the images.
“It was just this wonderful experience of every photograph telling you volumes of stories, just continuously looking,” he said. “Then eventually I had to make decisions and bring things down to a set that could be made into a show. It was a really interesting exercise.”
Something that impressed Houghtaling when he looked at all the photographs is that Swift Current was “substantial” throughout the decades.
“There was never a period in the last century where the town was small in attitude or community spirit,” he said. “Image after image, demonstrated how engaged everyone was in their community and with each other. That was pretty impressive.”
While the exhibition will present a glimpse into the city’s past, he hopes it will also convey an important message to people for the future.
“With this show we want to put out a call to the public to take their historical images seriously and consider sharing them with the museum,” he said. “There’s a lot of recent history that’s just not being gathered. People who are living the history in the last 30 or 40 years, they’re not thinking of the images or impressions that they have as being an important part of Swift Current history, but in fact they are.”
He noted history starts yesterday and the images and history of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are just as important as the years before that.
“We want to say that with the Swift Current centennial to make 2014 the opportunity to gather more of our own history and ensure that we’ve got that as a legacy for the future,” he said. “So exhibitions like this Expressions of a Community that we’re going to present, are also encouraging the public to consider their own images and to share them with the archive.”
When he worked through the museum’s photographic collection, it became apparent there were fewer images from recent years compared to the 1960s and earlier.
“I expected far more from recent decades,” he said. “They’re just not there and it’s because people are just not thinking of that box of photographs that they have from a couple of decades ago. They’re not thinking that it’s an important part of history yet.”
At the same time, he encouraged people to come forward if they have even older images, because there are certain locations in the city that is only known through historical descriptions, for example the interior of the Lyric Theatre from its Vaudeville and silent film era.
This photographic exhibition at the AGSC will be part of the first annual Saskatchewan Prairie Light Photography Festival.
“We want to contribute to that this year and in the future,” he said. “For its inaugural year, it’s launched in the January-February period and in the future on an annual basis it will be presented probably in the month of March and April. It’s already including several galleries and studios across the province.”
Each participating gallery or studio will present its own view on photography, whether historical as in the case of the Swift Current exhibition or more contemporary.
“They may in fact, be working on an entirely original project, but the common theme is photography and everyone across the province will be working in photography during that period,” he said. “So it’s a real immersion in photography for the month of the festival.”

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