NANITCH: Early Photographs of British Columbia

Showing for the first time at the Presentation House Gallery from March 30 until June 26, NANITCH: Early Photographs of British Columbia offers viewers a unique opportunity to explore the landscape and people of Vancouver through a selection of incredible pictures taken from between 1860 and the early part of the 20th century.

The exhibit comprises of a carefully curated selection of hundreds of photographs and other materials from the Langmann Collection, a stock of some 18,000 rare photographs, coloured prints, negatives and other visual records. These were donated to the UBC Library by Vancouver philanthropist and businessman Uno Langmann, his wife Dianne as well as Langmann Ltd. 

The collection is the result of Langmann's efforts over decades to acquire what amounts to a clear and vivid depiction of British Columbia in its formative years — when cabins and lumber mills were surrounded by vast expanses of seemingly endless forests and danger was ever present.

NANITCH translates from Chinook as “to look and watch,” which carries weighty implications to the kind of questions and dilemmas that the exhibit is asking its viewers to consider. These photographs serve as a unique portal into this important era and also document the presence of colonialism, seeming to implicate the camera and photographer as agents of the very changes they capture. 

It is indeed a surreal experience to witness the formation of such a populated city as Vancouver and see how frail it was merely a century ago. There is a ramshackle quality to most of the structures photographed and it is an interesting juxtaposition to see a group of men and women wearing their finer clothing while standing with the mountains and forests in the background, looking thoroughly out of place.

Certainly any romanticism one might associate with the time is stripped away when viewing these photographs. The very one-sided history of men and women taming a wild, hostile land by bringing their great civilization to it is quickly dissipated and the narrative becomes much more complex.

“It is fitting that the first look at this extraordinary collection takes place during UBC’s centennial, a time to reflect on the University’s history,” said Ingrid Parent, university librarian for the institution. “Collaborations like this with Presentation House Gallery enhances our commitment to community engagement and lifelong learning, teaching and research.”

The scope of this exhibit is expansive and its subject matter is complex and extremely relevant. The NANITCH exhibit is a rare and amazing opportunity for the Vancouver resident to look at the city they know so well with a different perspective, witnessing its birth and examining the political and social issues that surrounded it.