Vancouver’s ever-present natural surroundings have influenced the practice of many artists. In 1976, the curator Joan Lowndes, referring to painter Gordon Smith’s preoccupation with nature-based abstraction, wrote: “west coast artists . . . lived—and still live for the most part—on treed lots far from the city core, working in small studios at home surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery in the world.” Smith and others built modernist homes on Vancouver’s North Shore and integrated art and design into their daily lives.
In the 1970s, Victor John Penner grew up in West Vancouver and was exposed to these same conditions, yet his photographs of urban and suburban spaces, all marked by human interaction, create a sense of unease. District, Penner’s mise-en-scène of West Vancouver, offers a counter-perspective through photographs of seemingly discordant scenes.
Penner captures the incidental—stairs in a parking lot, an open box of negatives—in his large-format images that invite the viewer to consider how culture is built through experience, events, and myths. The photographs are not intentionally critical, but provoke us to consider what it is about this place that has influenced so many.