It was one of Vancouver’s most notorious neighbourhoods, known for its gambling dens, brothels and illegal booze parlours.
Hogan’s Alley is long gone, cleared away for the building of the Georgia Viaduct, which now, ironically, faces its own demise. But internationally renowned Vancouver photographic artist Stan Douglas is bringing it back to life through an immersive app called Circa 1948 – to be released later this spring – and as part of an exhibition of new work at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery.
Working with photographs of everything from dirt to planks of wood to ceiling tiles, the artist painstakingly created a digital rendering of the Strathcona neighbourhood at a time when it faced many of the same pressures as today, among them recession, gentrification, and the powerful march toward development.
“Art is good for two things. One is to let you see things that you thought you understood in a different way. The other is to give you an experience you can’t have any other way,” says Mr. Douglas, whose highly ambitious theatre and film production Helen Lawrence, set in the same time and place, is at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until April 13. “So this allows me to experience mid-century Strathcona and see what it actually looked like. I could not do that until we built it.”
Also included in the exhibition is Corrupt Files – images salvaged from faulty digital files – which explores the freedom a broken apparatus affords in a world inundated with conventional, Facebook-ready pics. There are also selections from Mr. Douglas’s recent Midcentury Studio series, which is in the style of postwar Vancouver news photography. For it, the notoriously meticulous artist set up photographic situations, then brought in people such as jugglers or magicians; what happened next was anyone’s guess.
“People think photographs are the way they see, even though photographs are completely inhuman in their way of picturing the world. So I wanted to embrace the automatism of photography, where it does things outside of your control,” Mr. Douglas explains. “No matter how much you set up or stage that image, random things happen when you click that button.”
Stan Douglas: Synthetic Pictures opens on March 20 at Presentation House Gallery, and is on until May 25 (presentationhousegallery.org).