I’m working on a cool photography project for Vancouver’s Lookout Shelters with Buschlen Mowatt Gallery and Joshua Dunford and have been thinking a lot about the ethics of photography on Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
The paragraph below is a first draft at some thoughts that I may include in the project. Looking for perspectives and feedback on photography in difficult situations such as the one in my neighborhood.
What people need to understand about Downtown Eastside is that there is a long and sordid history to this part of Vancouver. When you make a photographic history of the place, you cannot lose sight of this fact, you need to be aware and you must be respectful of it. Jeff Wall’s oeuvre is preeminent in describing Downtown Eastside. His contributions have established themselves as key components of Vancouver’s contemporary, critical art lineage but by extension, have emphasized the dilapidation of the place.
There are only three ways of capturing the essential characteristics of Downtown Eastside on film. You can ask permission from residents explicitly, refrain from photographing them at all, or you can encourage their engagement implicitly, by way of the establishment of an affiliation that is both personable and considerate. Ultimately, the latter approach makes for a comfortable and mutually respectful atmosphere that will appropriately translate into photographs. When a resident refuses to be photographed however, the only ethical thing to do is to act in accordance with their wishes. People have stories to tell and they have histories that we want to see, but these will only be recounted when thoughtfulness and caring is shown them. When you want to document Downtown Eastside, all I say is – respect the area when you are there. Voyeuristic surveillance is not acceptable. I am not interested in that.