“Our home is beyond the great Atlantic Ocean, beyond the great inland seas of Canada, beyond the vast wheat-growing prairies of Manitoba, beyond the majestic Rocky Mountains, away on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.”
These words, contained in a letter of petition to King Edward VII by a small delegation of First Nations leaders in 1906, underscored the remoteness of their home on the edge of a vast continent, far from the colonial seat of power. At the time of the First Nations peoples’ petition requesting greater control over their own lands, the topography around them had already been carved up and reshaped by homesteads and commercial enterprises. One of those petitioning the king was the Squamish elder Kiyapalanexw, or Joseph Capilano, the namesake of so much on the north shore of Burrard Inlet.
From his viewpoint overlooking the inlet, Capilano would have seen the city of Vancouver taking form, its buildings rising and the docks of the port reaching toward him over the water. Where once Indigenous canoes were the sole watercraft, great sailing ships and steamers now plied the water, bringing goods and settlers from the far reaches of the world.
Presented 110 years later and situated within the lands of Kiyapalanexw, Viewpoint—a project about looking, seeing, and perception—surveys the bustling trade of commercial shipping and tourism on and around Burrard Inlet.
Viewpoint consists of two lens-based works of art: Vision in 1792 by Ryan McKenna and Burrard Inlet Big Camera by Erin Siddall and Sean Arden. Housed in shipping containers on the edge of the port, the project evokes the history of the inlet as an access point for new forms of governance and for settlers, refugees, goods, and resources from all points of the globe.
Though distinct from each other, both projects are focused on observation and the experience of seeing. McKenna’s film Vision in 1792 considers Burrard Inlet and the exploration of its waters by George Vancouver through the unique perspective of a Coast Salish Shaman. The Shaman has a vision about new longhouses that will follow the arrival of the new people as he sings a coming-into-the-house song. Filmed from the vantage point of the Lions Gate Bridge, the movement of the water below is at first barely perceptible. The “impending event” that one expects of traditional narrative film is set aside in favour of a rhythmic reflection of place, circumstance, and the passage of time.
The second shipping container of Viewpoint has been turned into a camera obscura, a device that played an important role in the development of photography. The precursor to the modern camera, it allowed a scene to be captured and viewed as an isolated indoor projection. Like historic camera obscuras, Burrard Inlet Big Camera by Erin Siddall and Sean Arden employs a single aperture, multiple angled mirrors, and a camera bellows to create a projection of the slowly evolving view outside. The ephemeral, shifting image of Burrard Inlet speaks to the transient nature of not only the commercial ships that pass by but also to the history and stories of the built environment and landscape around us here on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Presented by Capture Photography Festival. Capture gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, the Vancouver Foundation, and the City of North Vancouver.