In 1969, UBC students put together an exhibition called The Photo Show in the recently built Student Union Building that explored new ways of thinking about photography. More and more artists at this time were using photography, not in the traditional modernist fashion of creating a precious object, but rather in a way that made the camera appear as a mere “copying device” used to illustrate an idea or make a point that often resided outside the realm of the actual photograph.
Photography’s ubiquitous nature in popular magazines and advertisements gave it a democratic vernacular that appealed to many artists who were caught up in the anti-hierarchical fervour of the 1960s. Eager to make a statement against the hegemonic “big canvases” of abstract expressionism, casual photo-based work gave artists an opportunity to mark out new challenging questions about what art was and what it could be. The 1969 show included works from young students and faculty such as Christos Dikeakos and Elias Pagonis, who curated the exhibition, as well as Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, and Iain Baxter, all of whom went on to have important artistic careers. As well as exhibiting their own work they had the initiative to secure works for the show from internationally known artists they admired and who displayed the same emerging ethos of conceptual art like Ed Ruscha, Dan Graham, Robert Smithson, Vito Acconci, Douglas Huebler, Robert Kinmont, and Bruce Nauman.
The current show uses Christos Dikeakos’s archive of the 1969 Photo Show and many of the original works from that exhibition. The Photo Show of 1969 was perhaps the first exhibition of its kind dedicated to gathering both local and international artists primarily interested in looking at new Conceptual photographic strategies. The Photo Show: 1969/2013 explores what made the art scene at UBC in the late 1960s exceptionally exciting and innovative and what was behind the culture at UBC and Vancouver that encouraged students and faculty to produce ground-breaking exhibitions not found anywhere else in Canada. The intent of the current exhibition is to look at the archive and works of 1969 show and the impulses that were driving the changes in photography in the late 1960s, as well as their continuing relevancies for photography today.
The exhibition is made possible by the generous support of the Art History and Visual Art Department of UBC, and the assistance of Christos Dikeakos, Barrie Jones, Ian Wallace, Jeff Wall, Charlotte Townsend-Gault, and the Catriona Jeffries Gallery.