Lawrence Chrismas donates miner portraits to museum archives
A photographer who has become famous for his images of miners has a new project, and that is to make sure his work is preserved for generations to come.
Many in the valley are familiar with Lawrence Chrismas’ work. He began working in the valley in the early 1980’s taking photos of miners, and has published a number of collections. His most recent Drumheller collection of photos is called “Coal in the Valley,” of which he has just ordered a second print.
He has amassed a collection in the area of 4,000 miners from across Canada, and his plan is to donate the negatives to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
“I have to do something with them because they are valuable, they have great historical value, and I have been told that a lot,” he said.
He has been around mines all his life, working for the Department of Mines right out of University. His inspiration to photograph and interview miners came almost as a fluke.
In 1979, he was awarded a scholarship at the Banff School of Fine Arts. It was for his landscape work. This was around the time the mines in the Canmore area were closing after almost 100 years of continuous operation.
He began talking to the old-timer miners in the area, and began taking their portraits.
“I took their portraits and went back to Ottawa where I was living. When I showed my portraits to friends, they said they were more interesting than my landscapes! So I pursued it and I have documented mining towns across Canada,” he said.
He has published seven books based on his portraits. Along
with the photo, he would interview the miners. Sometimes it was easier to interview the retired miners than the working ones.
“If they were getting paid to dig coal, the boss gets a little upset,” he laughs. “I would ask them some questions and take a few notes, but the old timers, they would want to talk for hours.”
In 1980, he moved to Calgary, and trips to Drumheller were so frequent, he found he needed a place to stay. He found a shack in Cambria, which became a place for him to crash on his trips to the valley. He still has it today.
His treasure trove of negatives are mostly 8X10 portrait camera negatives, although he has kept up with the times and does shoot digital.
As part of his donation, he is also making prints of many of the images.
“It’s no use giving them a negative contact print that I haven’t worked on, so I decided to make exhibition quality prints. So far, I have made 1,200 large prints that I am donating along with the negatives. These are turning out to be spectacular.”
His process for this has changed. Not long ago he sold his dark room, and now scans and prints the negatives.
“It makes these 8X10 negatives jump out, but it is a lot of work, and it’s costing me an arm and a leg,” he laughs.
At 75, it’s an ambitious project, but he is not slowing down. In fact, he started another project of documenting, not miners, but coal mining towns.
Photographer Lawrence Chrismas is planning to donate his collection of negatives of about 4,000 miner portraits to the Glenbow Museum.