Museum Peeks

This post is another in my series about the Haida Heritage Centre.  I often find more interest in the back rooms and obscure corners of museums than in the main exhibits, which is probably a bit perverse on my part, but comes from years of hanging around the places. Many years ago I worked in a museum and one of the most interesting things I found to do, other than (or perhaps rather than) my own work, was to watch model maker extraordinaire John Smyly doing his exacting and extremely precise work on the model of the Haida village of Skedans now on display in the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The research that John put into that model was published, in part, as a book about Skedans.

Thus it was with considerable interest that I found this model, which I think is left over from the original museum exhibits before this new building was constructed. This model is in a plexiglass case, parked in a hallway that leads to the carving shed. The cover is cracked open, and parts of the case are held together with duct tape. Even so, the model looks to be in good condition. It is of the village of Skidegate, as it would have been in probably the 1860’s to 1880’s and based on photographs of that period, like this one, this one, and this one (which looks as if it has a picture of a model in the middle frame – perhaps even this model?). Skidegate is now a vigorous modern Haida town located just around the corner from the Museum.

These shots are all peeks through the plexiglass which was very brightly lit and reflective from nearby windows so I had to choose my angles carefully. One shot is partly through the crack in the plexiglass.

Going to museums is a way of peeking into the past so I found it rather poignant to see this broken down old exhibit, a piece of the museum’s own past, languishing in the hall, and to discover that I could only view it partially and from the right angle and that the best glimpses were through a narrow crack in the plexiglass, from one end only. It is also seemed quite appropriate that by manipulating the images I could bring a bit more clarity, not bringing things more into focus, but sharpening them in various ways to make them more understandable. This is a similar process to the role of museum curators bringing parts of the past into view through exhibits. I was only going to show one of these shots among other odd items I found lying around, but this process struck me so much like a curatorial activity, that decided to post all the shots I took.

I really like the reflections in the ‘sky’, the feeling of almost being underwater for some of these, the distant and mostly out of focus glimpses of a past way of life. I chose to shoot them all with a very narrow depth of field to give that feeling of distance and depth and to blur the edges of the story being told; blurred edges of history.

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This is one of a series of eight posts about the Haida Heritage Centre, the others can be found through this link.

To view the images below in larger format, click on any of the thumbnails, navigate with the arrows and escape to return to this page.

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Canon 5Dii, Canon 50mm/f1.4 lens, ISO1250, f1.4.

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5 thoughts on “Museum Peeks

  1. Pingback: Museum: Canoe House, Bill Read Teaching Centre, Carving Shed « burnt embers

  2. I am mesmerized by your work, Ehpem. You have the most incredible eye to find things that are so special and unique, it’s always a big highlight of my day to spend time with your latest blog posts. This one is most certainly in that category. I found myself amazed going through each image trying to take in the details you’ve exposed here. What a great way to tie history in with really captivating photography!

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    • Hi Toad, I am glad you like this – all that shiny reflecting and distorting plexiglass somehow made it seem more like a view into the past through some kind of sightly unreal perspective. And when it comes down to it, what other way is the past (personal history or collective memories) viewed – all the missing bits, forgotten by neglect, disaster, political will, disinterest and so many other reasons.

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  3. Wonderful post. I feel a sense of sympatico with your thought process. I have been fascinated with the idea of totems since reading Susan Vreelands Book,”Forest Lover”, and John Muirs, “Travels in Alaska”, years ago. I have a sculptor friend who now builds and teaches others how to build authentic inuit kayaks, in Kentucky of all places. Fascinating stuff. Thank you for your vision.

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    • Hi Jane – thanks so much for your comments. I was fascinated on my last trip to Haida Gwaii to see to what degree some of the old arts and crafts have come back – hat weaving from cedar and spruce root for instance – wonderfully gorgeous hats frequently seen worn on the street, including in western styles like fedoras and ball caps.

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