Cap­tur­ing pride

National Post (Latest Edition) - - News - BY ZOSIA BIELSKI

When more than 9,000 aca­demics gather this week in Van­cou­ver for the an­nual Congress of the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sci­ences, ev­ery­thing from gen­der roles to the so­ci­o­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of first names will be on the agenda. In a week-long se­ries, the Na­tional Post show­cases some of the most in­ter­est­ing re­search. To­day, the way Canada sees it­self, in pho­tos and mu­se­ums.

When Tracy Whalen asked her univer­sity stu­dents to name iconic Cana­dian images, many were stumped, so she showed them a pho­to­graph of Na­tional Hockey League player Paul Henderson’s win­ning goal against the Rus­sians in 1972.

The hockey tri­umph it­self was an iconic mo­ment in the mind of Prof. Whalen, who teaches rhetoric and com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg; the pho­to­graph of that mo­ment, with Mr. Henderson’s an­i­mated limbs and the Rus­sian goalie’s de­feated body on the ice, is also aes­thet­i­cally beau­ti­ful, a fac­tor Prof. Whalen says only in­creases its iconic po­ten­tial.

But save for a few nods from the “young men at the back of the room,” Prof. Whalen’s stu­dents — too young to have ex­pe­ri­enced the grip­ping finale of the Sum­mit Se­ries — did not rec­og­nize the photo.

That such a pow­er­ful im­age did not have a res­o­nance deep enough to reach across gen­der and age lines sug­gested to Prof. Whalen that Cana­di­ans do not re­mem­ber and cel­e­brate their his­tory the same way Amer­i­cans do, and she sought to find out why.

In a new pa­per to be pre­sented at a mas­sive gath­er­ing of aca­demics this week in Van­cou­ver, Prof. Whalen ar­gues that un­like Amer­i­cans, Cana­di­ans have no truly iconic pho­to­graphs be­cause we are a younger coun­try with a less fully formed col­lec­tive me­mory, a na­tion that iden­ti­fies pre­dom­i­nantly with its di­verse im­mi­grants and has tra­di­tion­ally been more dis­creet about its flour­ishes of na­tion­al­ism.

Prof. Whalen says that for decades, Amer­i­cans have revered na­tion­al­is­tic pho­to­graphs such as Joe Rosen­thal’s Rais­ing the Flag on Iwo Jima and the 1986 Chal­lenger ex­plo­sion.

Oth­ers are John Paul Filo’s 1970 im­age of the Kent State shoot­ing, the Times Square Kiss cap­tured by Life pho­to­jour­nal­ist Al­fred Eisen­staedt in 1945, three-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr. salut­ing his fa­ther’s cof­fin in 1963, and Dorothea Lange’s Mi­grant Mother, a por­trait of a hun­gry wo­man and her chil­dren on a mi­gra­tory farm in Cal­i­for­nia, which be­came one of the en­dur­ing images of the Great De­pres­sion.

“I can men­tion all of those pho­tos and ev­ery­one says, ‘Oh yes.’ I have yet to reach that un­am­biva­lent ‘Oh yes’ mo­ment with a Cana­dian pho­to­graph,” says Prof. Whalen, who ar­gues her con­tro­ver­sial point in a pre­sen­ta­tion called, “At a Loss for Pho­tos: The Cana­dian Iconic Im­age and Civic Dis­course.”

“I would not say en­tirely that Canada does not have im­por­tant salient images, but I think that in Canada, we don’t have as much res­o­lu­tion about what we can say is the rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cana­dian pic­ture,” she said in an in­ter­view.

Her re­search stems from the work of Amer­i­can the­o­rists such as Robert Ha­ri­man and John Louis Lu­caites, who say, “An iconic pic­ture has to be that pin­na­cle that is com­po­si­tion­ally beau­ti­ful, that high­lights a his­toric mo­ment, that has tremen­dous cir­cu­la­tion in the coun­try and in­ter­na­tion­ally. It’s eas­ily rec­og­nized, it’s ven­er­ated and it’s tran­scen­dent,” and should also be widely re­pro­duced across dif­fer­ent medi­ums, be it print, screen or T-shirt.

This is the def­i­ni­tion Prof. Whalen used when she showed her class var­i­ous Cana­dian pho­to­graphs. Many, she ar­gued, are mem­o­rable and im­por­tant, but fall short of iconic be­cause they do not pos­sess all of the above char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Think of for­mer prime min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau pirou­et­ting be­hind Queen El­iz­a­beth’s back at Buck­ing­ham Palace. For many Cana­di­ans of a cer­tain age, Prof. Whalen says, that pirou­ette stood for Mr. Trudeau’s demo­cratic de­ri­sion of aris­to­cratic pomp. Yet it is un­likely to be an im­age ever re­pro­duced on T-shirts the coun­try over, or even rec­og­nized by all Cana­di­ans for its sig­nif­i­cance many years af­ter­wards, she ar­gues.

Or for­mer prime min­is­ter Jean Chre­tien throt­tling an anti-poverty pro­tester, an at­tack later dubbed the Shaw­ini­gan Hand­shake. Many of Prof. Whalen’s stu­dents re­mem­bered the choke­hold, but the im­age does not res­onate emo­tion­ally. Nor does it rep­re­sent an ideal that would in­still a sense of na­tional pride, the way most of the U.S. iconic pho­tos do.

One of the few Cana­dian pho­tos that comes close to be­ing iconic is an im­age from the 1990 Oka Cri­sis that shows Private Pa­trick Cloutier fac­ing off against Mo­hawk War­rior Brad Larocque.

Prof. Whalen says that “some have called it Canada’s most fa­mous im­age,” but what she finds in­ter­est- ing is that view­ers who look at the photo can iden­tify with ei­ther of the men, or take a third view­point, a quintessen­tially Cana­dian one that she calls “the ide­al­ized Cana­dian cit­i­zen as me­di­a­tor.”

Most of all, Prof. Whalen says, Cana­dian images gen­er­ally do not tran­scend years af­ter they were snapped the way many of the iconic Amer­i­can ones do.

She points to Cana­dian Press pho­tog­ra­pher Doug Ball’s shot of for­mer Con­ser­va­tive leader Robert Stan­field clum­sily fum­bling a foot­ball, an im­age so pow­er­ful some say it cost him the 1974 fed­eral elec­tion. Prof. Whalen’s stu­dents snick­ered at the im­age of the gan­gly politi­cian squint­ing his eyes and clasp­ing his bony fin­gers, but many did not know who he was, or that it be­came a piv­otal mo­ment on the cam­paign trail.

In the case of the Flag Rais­ing at Iwo Jima, Prof. Whalen says view­ers do not need to know which bat­tle it was, or that the pic­ture was taken on Mount Surib­achi in 1945, be­cause the im­age tran­scends the mo­ment and speaks to a na­tion­al­is­tic sen­ti­ment.

Sim­i­lar com­ments have been made about the Mi­grant Mother, she ar­gues. “You don’t need to know that that was the Amer­i­can De­pres­sion. That wo­man rep­re­sents mus­ing and re­flec­tion and pro­found sad­ness and all th­ese other ma­ter­nal things that are larger than the mo­ment. You can have a mem­o­rable mo­ment like the Stan­field fum­ble, but does that tran­scend that mo­ment?”

Why do Cana­di­ans not have the same shared li­brary of iconic pho­tog­ra­phy as Amer­i­cans? Prof. Whalen says there are sev­eral rea­sons.

First is the fact that Canada is so much younger than its south­ern cousin. It is also a more re­gional na­tion: Whereas images from the 1919 gen­eral strike res­onate with Win­nipegers, they do not reg­is­ter with At­lantic Cana­di­ans. Prof. Whalen adds that Canada is less mil­i­tant than the United States, mean­ing Cana­di­ans have fewer dra­matic pho­to­graphs of in­tense, vi­o­lent strug­gles.

There are also prag­matic causes: While Amer­i­cans had pres­ti­gious pho­to­jour­nal­ism publi­ca­tions like Life and Time, there are no Cana­dian equiv­a­lents.

“Th­ese re­al­i­ties can’t help but af­fect the cir­cu­la­tion and pro­duc­tion of th­ese images,” Prof. Whalen says.

An­other prag­matic con­sid­er­a­tion is the de­mo­graphic makeup of the coun­try. Ul­ti­mately, she says, iconic images that bind the na­tion may not be as pos­si­ble, nor as cru­cial in a coun­try of new im­mi­grants such as Canada. “Some peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily need to iden­tify as Cana­dian for this coun­try to work.”


Cana­dian im­age: Paul Henderson scores the win­ning goal against the Rus­sians in the 1972 Sum­mit Se­ries.


U.S. im­age: Fa­mous Sec­ond World War photo shows U.S. Marines rais­ing the flag on Iwo Jima.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.