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Coast photographer captured all aspect of local life

Coast photographer captured all aspect of local life

emma greenThere is no one historical truth. The oft-repeated phrase “there are two sides to every story” falls flat when dealing with the past, because there are not just two sides; there are infinite “sides.” Museums do not work with “history,” but rather histories.  Yet so frequently we are presented with a model of the past that ignores major historical complexities and power relations, including the histories of indigenous peoples, women, and other groups in Canada, which are often hidden away.

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One of the original Sunshine Coast selfies: photographer Helen McCall, who chronicled a wide variety of Coast life, took this self portrait, probably in the 1930s. SCMA photo #3408

The photographer Helen McCall, whose works are found throughout our archives, was one such woman who documented early Coast life in invaluable ways. Photographs are a limited medium because unlike a diary or other written record, we cannot know the subject’s inner thoughts. But McCall aimed to photograph community, and we can follow her work to identify what she, as a photographer and settler woman, found most important. In many ways, McCall departed from the norm by documenting rural life. She photographed all aspects of community life, thus creating a more comprehensive story of the Sunshine Coast. Her craft also reflected her rural living, as she produced her photographs in a basic darkroom with neither running water nor electricity. From her unique angles and perspectives, we see the influence of a youth spent in a forested environment.

McCall’s entrepreneurial spirit is evident not just by her pursuit of a career, but also by her use of a postcard medium to attract the Sunshine Coast’s tourist market. Though she may have seen herself as simply making a living, Helen McCall had the immensely powerful task of shaping our historical memory here on the Sunshine Coast.

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