Lawrence Chris­mas do­nates miner por­traits to mu­seum archives

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ko­lafa The Drumheller Mail

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.

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