Transcript of podcast episode 4
Angèle Alain: Welcome to Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage. I’m your host, Angèle Alain. Join us as we showcase treasures from our digital collections; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.
Rebel, imposter, knitter, heartthrob—all words not typically associated with Canadian historical figures. Library and Archives Canada’s Double Take exhibition provides an up-close and personal look at some of Canada’s most prominent men and women, demonstrating that not all personalities fit the mild-mannered, self-effacing stereotype that Canadians are so frequently subject to. The remarkable people featured in the exhibition come from all walks of life, regions, and the past and present. Some are well known; others will be.
Today we are talking with Carolyn Cook, a curator at Library and Archives Canada. Carolyn is the curator of the Double Take exhibition. She will talk to us about some of the people included in the exhibition—their portraits, accompanying documents—and reveal stories about the subjects ranging from thievery, exploitation and scandal to glorious achievement.
Hi Carolyn. Thanks for joining us today. So what is the Double Take exhibition all about? What does Double Take mean?
Carolyn Cook: Well, Double Take, the idea behind it is that there is a lot more to a person than what you see at first glance. So the idea is to allow people to delve into the stories behind individuals. It is a traveling exhibition that we’ve just created—and on tour right now—that includes approximately 100 works that represent over 50 individuals. And it really is story-driven; so we’re trying to allow visitors to peer behind the façade of these people and learn lesser-known facts or surprising facts about these people who are sort of part of the general Canadian history. But we might not know different facets of them. The works span approximately four centuries; it starts with some of the early explorers, like Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, and goes all the way up to contemporary icons like David Suzuki and Joni Mitchell.
AA: So Double Take is two sides of that person?
CC: Two sides, or multiple sides as well. I think that the opinions and perceptions of people change throughout time and across communities depending on [who] is looking at the individual.
AA: So how did you come up with the concept for this exhibition?
CC: Well, we really wanted to be able to highlight the breadth and diversity of the portrait collection at Library and Archives Canada, and at the same time we really wanted to go against this persistent stereotype that we have as Canadians that we are mild-mannered and self-effacing and maybe that our Canadian history might be a little dull. And we also wanted to go against the idea that portrait exhibitions also celebrate heroes. We really wanted to have individuals that attract multiple opinions and perceptions, contrasting opinions as well, so that we could allow visitors to have a conversation about these individuals and maybe question their own assumptions about them.
AA: Ok, so how does this exhibition, available on site and online, fit in with Library and Archives Canada’s modernized approach to reach out to more Canadians?
CC: Well, as a traveling exhibition, we’re trying to bring these amazing pieces of Canadian history into communities across the country and bring it to where the people are.
AA: As opposed to having people come to us?
CC: To Ottawa, that’s right. And also, having it available online, anybody can open up their computer and have a look at the portraits that we have on our website.
AA: And is it going to be available online forever?
CC: It’s going to be online for the duration of the exhibition, so for another little while. So I encourage everybody to go and have a look at these amazing works.
AA: So you can either see it on site and walk through it, or you can go look at the images online?
CC: That’s right.
AA: Ok. What type of material is included? Are they all portraits?
CC: Yeah, we have almost 100 portraits, but it ranges from oil paintings to sculpture; we have
video and caricatures.
AA: So a portrait is not just a photograph?
CC: That’s right. We have all different types of media, and what’s great about the exhibition as well, we really wanted to demonstrate that, yes, we have this amazing national portrait collection, but of course there is an amazing collection here at Library and Archives Canada, including documentary heritage. So at the end of the exhibition we have an interactive computer where visitors can actually learn more about the stories of these individuals. And we have some amazing pieces in our collection, for instance, a letter that was written by Louis Riel the day before he was hanged, written to his wife and children. So you can look at that letter on the computer, or you can see Dr. Frederick Banting’s First World War attestation papers. So it’s really meant to sort of pique your curiosity and encourage you to continue to look at these stories. I think it’s pieces of a puzzle that people can continue to explore and do more research and find out more little known facts about these individuals. And a lot of the interpretation in the exhibition is meant to be a little provocative.
AA: To pique curiosity.
CC: Again, to pique curiosity and to encourage dialogue between visitors, and I think it definitely accomplishes that.
AA: I guess it would pique curiosities about the stories in this exhibition, but also about the other records that you can dig up online and at Library and Archives Canada. If you’re interested in what you’re seeing, you might want to go further and do more research.
CC: That’s right. And again, this is just the tip of the iceberg; we’re covering over 50 individuals, but of course Canadian history has a lot more different and interesting stories and people that you can continue to explore online.
AA: So how does someone choose which Canadians to include in the exhibition?
CC: Well, it was definitely a difficult process, but we wanted to bring out some of the gems of our collection as well as bring out some works that we’ve never been able to show before.
CC: Which is really exciting for us. But again, this isn’t sort of a Top 50 list; it’s really people who have interesting stories, and we wanted to span four centuries, show different types of media and represent different types of individuals. In particular, we wanted to embrace people and events that attract multiple and often contrasting or opposing positions. So polarizing figures, which I think makes it interesting in terms of people’s own assumptions and creating dialogue amongst the visitors.
AA: So let’s say I can’t attend the exhibition, can you tell us what it looks like for those of us who can’t go?
CC: The idea is really a focus on encounter. We want you to sort of stumble on these individuals. Some of them might be well known to you; others not so well known, but maybe they should be. So, as you go through, there are some standalone portraits, but often times they are juxtaposed, sort of two facets of one individual. Someone like Grey Owl—we have this amazing photograph of Grey Owl, by photographer Josef Karsh—juxtaposed with an image of the young Archibald Belaney, which is of course his true identity, right next to it. So it’s meant for you to look at both images, and you see there is a story there. You might not know who Grey Owl is, but it makes you kind of go up and try to solve what this mystery is. We also created groupings around individuals, somebody like Sir John A. MacDonald, the first prime minister. Of course, opinions of him have changed quite a bit over time, and we have a huge wealth of images of Sir John A. MacDonald in our collection and some amazingly personal objects as well, like a gold locket that contains a daguerreotype of a young Sir John A. MacDonald.
AA: What’s a daguerreotype?
CC: A daguerreotype is an early type of photograph, and it’s an amazing personal object because this was a locket that also contained an image of his son, and it would have been worn by his wife at the time. So these amazing personal objects as well as some political portraits, like a campaign poster for one of his electoral campaigns. So again, it’s meant for you to stand in front of these images of one individual and analyze sort of what was the intent behind the portraits and why were people portrayed in a certain way at a specific time.
AA: And if I walk up to one of those portraits, what’s the type of description that I can read?
CC: It’s a fairly interpretive exhibition; so what we have are some extended labels for all of the various portraits that include stories. And what we’ve done, because there is a lot to read in the exhibition, is we start out the caption with three descriptors for the individual, so three nouns. Two of them might be more expected, and the third sort of unexpected, maybe a bit more sensationalistic to prompt you to read the rest of the text.
AA: How much work is involved in picking three words to describe a human being?
CC: There’s definitely a lot of work, and of course there is more than three words to describe anybody. So it’s challenging…
CC: …to narrow it down, but what we did try to do is sort of start with the known. So somebody like Sir John MacDonald, you start off with first prime minister or prime minister, and then you move on to perhaps the third, which we have is bon vivant, because he liked to imbibe quite a bit. Of course this is sort of a fun, light-hearted way of looking at Canada’s first prime minister, which is obviously a serious subject, but again, we are trying to make these people relatable to the visitor.
AA: They’re all human.
CC: They’re all human, exactly. Which I think is what makes it very interesting. Even somebody like hockey goaltender Jacques Plante, who we know as a sportsmen, but the last word for him is knitter because he loved to knit. His mother taught him how to knit when he was young.
CC: Yes, and that’s how he calmed his nerves before games, so it’s very interesting. And he always wore a toque, sort of his trademark, and that is something that he would have knit for himself.
AA: That’s amazing!
AA: I see that you’ve chosen a photograph of Kim Campbell to represent the exhibition. How did you decide on that image?
CC: Well, we chose Kim Campbell sort of as a signature image for the exhibition because I think it is a fairly well-known portrait. It’s the photograph taken by Barbara Woodley in 1990, a black and white image of Kim Campbell, who was then justice minister. She’s posed actually in a strapless gown, but she’s bare-shouldered, and she’s holding her Queen’s Council robes in front of her on a hanger. This image is probably one of the most notorious images of a Canadian politician, which is a bit difficult to understand in today’s terms, I think. But many people considered the bare-shouldered portrait inappropriate, and she was actually dubbed “Canada’s Madonna.” Which again, if you think of the context of the early ‘90s and what Madonna was doing at the time, versus what we think of Kim Campbell, it’s a bit of a different, or sort of a stretch. But it was very interesting, what happened in terms of the process of how the portrait was taken, is that artist Barbara Woodley was in the midst of creating a book of photographs of inspirational Canadian women, and she went to photograph Kim Campbell. Her idea was to actually pose her in front of her cello, because she’s quite an accomplished cellist as well, but Kim Campbell had already posed for an image with that sort of set up. So she suggested that she wear her robes, but Barbara Woodley had already photographed Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin wearing her black robes. So together they decided that maybe instead she should hold the robes in front of her on a hanger, so she wore the strapless gown. But, of course, the publicity that came out after this was, “Was she wearing anything?”
AA: Right, because you can’t see it!
CC: That’s right. The image was picked up internationally, and even British tabloids were calling her Canada’s national pin-up girl, which again is kind of interesting in today’s context. But we really thought that this image captured the idea of Double Take because, again, the story almost doesn’t match up with the image, but also when you look at the image it is fairly striking, and you see this contrast of the female symbol of the bare shoulders with a traditionally male symbol of the robes in front of her.
AA: Also, the bare shoulders, its vulnerable, and then the other side is the powerful side of justice. That’s what I get out of it, that double take.
CC: Exactly, and it’s also interesting to think of how male politicians are portrayed and perceived in contrast to female politicians.
AA: Right. I understand there are recordings that go with the different portraits of Canadians. Can you talk to us about those recordings?
CC: Yeah, we were fortunate enough to conduct some short interviews with a handful of people represented in the exhibition.
CC: So this includes people like Buffy St. Marie and David Suzuki, and of course we have one with Kim Campbell. And it’s great because she speaks about the process of taking this photograph but then also sort of the repercussions of it and how it impacted her political career. And what’s really interesting, pollster Angus Reid has come out and said that they believe the photograph was the single most important factor in Campbell’s rise to political prominence. And she eventually became Canada’s first female prime minister; so in a lot of ways this single image had a huge impact on her career.
Kim Campbell: The first publication of Barbara Woodley’s photos, actually in an exhibition in Vancouver, in a bank lobby at the end of 1990, and the reaction was very warm to all of her photos and mine was one of the favorites, but nobody thought it shocking or surprising. But when her book was finally published at the end of 1992, and the exhibition was presented at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the context was completely different because then there was all sorts of speculation that Brian Mulroney would be stepping down and I might be one of the candidates to succeed him. The context was everything and it was quite a scandal so to speak. But I think what made the photograph interesting to people, was the interesting juxtaposition of the softness of a woman’s bare shoulders, maybe even vulnerability of that in contrast to the queens council robes that I was holding, that represented a profession often seen as very male dominated and very powerful, and I think that contrast, that juxtaposition of images made the photograph really quite eloquent in many people’s minds and memorable. Would I do it again? Absolutely, it was a great pleasure to work with the artist Barbara Woodley. Like many interesting images it came about by accident, how to use my queen’s council robes without my actually wearing them and it was a lot of fun. And as I’ve often said to people I’ve seen the Queen Mother showing more skin than I was showing in that picture, it wasn’t the least bit naughty, it was interesting and underlined the fact that I was the first woman minister of justice, but that women were entering into fields that had traditionally been the domain of men.
CC: So it’s interesting to listen to Kim Campbell’s reaction to the perception of this portrait, but of course the artist herself, Barbara Woodley, had her own reaction to this public perception. I think she was quite surprised that people thought this way about the image of Kim Campbell. And she actually went so far as saying that she thought the public who was looking at this image did not necessarily understand the artistic symbols that were used in the image.
AA: You’ve also included former prime minister Jean Chrétien. What is his photograph all about? What’s the story behind it?
CC: Well, it’s interesting to compare both the portraits of Kim Campbell and Jean Chrétien because, in some ways, they’re the antitheses of the formal official portrait of a politician. What’s interesting with the portrait of Jean Chretien is that he was also an active participant in the creation of the image. It’s a part of a series of works that were done by photographer Andrew Danson, and they’re actually called “Unofficial Portraits.” And what he did was he went in and photographed over 60 politicians in their offices on Parliament Hill. And it’s really a collaborative effort with the subjects. What he would do is he would go in and set up the offices, maybe move some furniture or pieces of art or things in the office to create a set-up, and then he would leave the politician, like Jean Chrétien, alone in the office with the shutter release, and it was up to him to take various portraits of himself. So he was instructed to take as long as he needed and photograph himself maybe a dozen times. What’s interesting with the portrait of Jean Chrétien is the story in a way as the process, not just the final image. Apparently Jean Chrétien understood that the image needed some drama and maybe some humour. So he, across his various portraits, moved around the room and did some creative stuff. Apparently, after he took four or five images, he came back out of the office and said to the artist, Andrew Danson, “I really don’t know what else to do,” and he said, “Oh, just go back in and think about it.”
AA: I’m imagining Jean Chrétien doing yoga in his office for one reason or another.
CC: That would be a great pose. But what’s interesting is that Andrew Danson didn’t know what he did until he actually developed the contact sheet, and apparently Jean Chrétien was quite creative. He got down on the ground and knelt in front of his bear skin rug—apparently he has an Inuit sculpture in his office, and he stared it directly in the face. In another shot, he put on glasses and pretended to be reading a book. And so what’s interesting is that he selected the final pose that he did in the series. And in the image he’s sitting in a chair sort of right at the front of the image, and in the background he has a polar bear skin rug on the floor, and he has an Inuit sculpture to the side, and he’s staring directly at the view in this kind of serious pose, and he’s making the boy scout salute. So it’s kind of humorous but serious at the same time. And then in terms of the story of Jean Chrétien, what’s interesting is, in doing my research, I found that he was actually kicked out of the boy scouts. So it’s kind of an ironic pose as well as he’s doing this boy scout salute. And you know, he had such a lengthy career in Canadian politics, but he was known as sort of this scrappy little guy from Shawinigan. We know him as the prime minister who put a choke hold on one of the protestors at an event. So you can imagine maybe why he got kicked out of the boy scouts; he was known for his fights.
AA: So is that the point of the double take in this case?
CC: Yeah, that’s sort of the idea of the double take. Again, the image stops you in your tracks when you go by it; so there’s that double take but, at the same time, the idea of a politician who’s also this sort of scrappy person.
AA: Another well-known, political Canadian that’s included in the exhibition is Romeo Dallaire. Can you tell us how he fits in the story of the exhibition?
CC: Sure. I think this image in particular is very striking. It is a large-scale pencil drawing of Romeo Dallaire by Elaine Goble. It’s a fairly recent acquisition for Library and Archives Canada. It’s a very striking image because it’s a closely cropped portrait where you just see his face, and he’s staring off to one side, sort of lost in his thoughts. I think, for a lot of people, when you come up to this image you might not recognize who it is, but you have this emotional reaction to it because it’s very sort of solemn. Of course, Romeo Dallaire in 1994 took command of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the midst of civil war in Rwanda, and without adequate means to intervene, General Dallaire was unable to stop what was essentially the slaughter of 800,000 people over 100 days. Of course, eventually he did convince UN authorities to take action, but ultimately it was too little, too late. And I think you really see those haunting thoughts in his eyes, and it’s very well captured in this portrait.
AA: And I guess, if you know the story, you can kind of guess what he’s thinking about, and if you don’t, you want to know.
CC: Exactly. And what’s really interesting about this work is it was created as a part of a program called Star Portraits, in which three established artists were given the task of creating a portrait of one celebrity. The artists are given about two weeks to create these portraits, and at the end the celebrity gets to look at them and react to them and pick one for their own collection. And Romeo Dallaire actually had a very interesting reaction to this portrait in particular. While he loved the actual work of art itself, he found it too difficult to look at because it really does show that pain and remorse.
AA: What are the three words associated with the portrait?
CC: So the three words we have chosen for Romeo Dallaire are soldier, humanitarian—because of course he was appointed to the Senate in 2005 and he’s become a fervent advocate for victims of genocide—and then the third is witness because I think it really accompanies this portrait quite well, because you can see the memories in his mind, of witnessing such a devastating trauma.
AA: Like Kim Campbell, Romeo Dallaire’s portrait is accompanied by an audio recording. W hat does he speak about?
CC: So we asked Romeo Dallaire to react to his portrait, what it makes him feel. Because I think a lot of visitors, as you see the portrait, you have an emotional reaction. So we wanted to know how he felt about it, and he really speaks to the trauma of having witnessed such a horrific loss of life and, ultimately, his sense of failure in preventing it.
Romeo Dallaire: The portrait was a surprise, in how deep it was able to go inside me and bring out the incredible traumas and hurt of having witnessed such a devastating destruction of human life and mutilation and suffering that the Rwandan genocide was. And my role in attempting to prevent it but ultimately unsuccessfully ended up abandoned by the international community and left to witness this horror and to keep that genocide alive. So the portrait is part of that mandate, of not letting us forget how we failed these millions of Rwandans in their time of dire need.
AA: You’re trying to tell stories in many different ways in the exhibition. Can you explain to us what techniques you’ve used to do that?
CC: Sure. I think a really good example is that we’ve created groupings around certain individuals, which means we have multiple portraits of the same person over time and produced for different reasons as well, which I think standing in front of that helps tell part of the story just visually. An example of this is our portrait grouping around the Dionne Quintuplets. The Dionne Quintuplets—most people are familiar with their very tragic story, of course—they were born in 1934. The five identical quintuplets born in a small town in Ontario and they miraculously survived. But the provincial government removed the children from their parents and placed them in a specially built hospital and home, which was known as Quintland. Essentially, it became Canada’s biggest tourist attraction. Over nine years, over 3,000,000 people visited Quintland to watch these adorable little girls in their colour coded outfits.
AA: Because there are five of them.
CC: Five of them, that’s right. And they each had their colour-coded outfits, and they would play and basically pretend to not be aware of visitors, even though they were essentially in a fishbowl. But in 1999 the Ontario government awarded the three surviving sisters $4,000,000 in compensation for their nine years of exploitation. So it’s a very tragic story that’s fairly well known; there have been books and films done about the quintuplets. So it was important to treat this in a very sensitive way because it is such a tragic story.
AA: But why would you pick that story in the first place?
CC: Well, again, I think it’s the idea of not just glorifying heroes and events, that our history is marked by all different types of events, and I think it’s important to remember some of the more tragic stories and these stories of exploitation. So what we have done for the Dionne quintuplets, we have a number of works together. We have a photograph of them as babies with one of their doctors; we also have quite a large-scale ad because their images were used for a lot of different marketing—you see exploitation of them as such young children. And then we also have this oil painting by Andrew Loomis that was done in 1950, and he was sort of the official artist for the Dionne Quintuplets, and his works created the basis for a calendar which would have been sold. And the image we have is one of the paintings that was used for the calendar. It’s called “Out for Fun” and it portrays the five girls as teenagers around a campfire, roasting hotdogs and playing the guitar and singing. So it’s this very idealized and joyous moment that is in stark contrast…
AA: It never would have happened.
CC: …in stark contrast to what their actual lives were like.
AA: There is no campfire in a fishbowl.
CC: That’s right, and what we’ve done is juxtaposed these images of exploitation with a more contemporary portrait that was done by Bryan Adams, a photograph from 1999 that was a part of a book he published. But in that portrait it shows the three surviving sisters. It’s a very sort of stark image; they are dressed in dark black and grey suits on a white staircase, and you see they are sitting very closely together, as if sort of their solidarity, the three of them together is their only way of surviving and going through life. This photograph was actually taken the year after they had been awarded the compensation from the Ontario government.
AA: Yes, that is a tragic story in Canadian history. One to be remembered. Most of us are familiar with Joni Mitchell’s career in music, but what don’t we know about her? What’s her double take?
CC: Well, I think a lot of us know her as a folk singer, but in fact she considers herself, first and foremost, as an artist. She did study art, although she dropped out of art school to pursue her music career, but she’s maintained her painting career throughout her life, and in fact the portrait we have is another photograph done by Barbara Woodley. Joni Mitchell’s posed sitting on the floor in front of one of her paintings. So you can see she has chosen to represent herself more as a visual artist as opposed to a musician, but of course she went on to have this amazing career and skyrocketed to stardom with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Woodstock” or “Both Sides Now,” which is what we know her for. But what’s interesting about Joni Mitchell is at the age of nine she contracted polio, which has permanently impacted the strength in her left arm, and so this has actually, yeah, her left arm is what she would have been holding on with.
AA: That’s what I was thinking.
CC: Which is difficult if you don’t have much strength in that hand, and so because of that she had to sort of compensate and create her own chord positions, or positioning of her fingers on the fret board. So she has quite a unique style, but it also affected the pacing of her rhythms, which tend to actually lean more towards jazz rhythms, as opposed to the folk and the soft rock that we might think she does. And that impacted her career; she went on to record jazz albums and even did a collaboration with jazz great Charles Mingus. I actually read a really interesting interview with Joni Mitchell where she said that one time she met American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who was sort of an inspiration to her as well, and Georgia O’Keeffe said to her, “You know, you’re going to have to make a decision between do you want to be an artist or do you want to be a musician because you really can’t be both,” and she said, “Oh no, I will be both.” And she has been; it’s really amazing.
AA: After putting this exhibition together, who stands out? Who do you think was the most interesting or the most surprising?
CC: Well, one of my favourites in terms of stories—because really it runs the gamut between inspiring stories, provocative stories and also from the tragic to the light-hearted—so I’m going to focus on a light hearted story that I really enjoy and visitors seem to relate to as well. And that’s Gilles Villeneuve. Of course, this year marks the 30th anniversary of his tragic death in a car crash when he was in a qualifying race for the Belgian Grand Prix. When Gilles Villeneuve began his racing career he was a struggling young mechanic who couldn’t really afford a lot of tools to work on the cars, so apparently he “borrowed” or stole tools from Canadian Tire, but I think he always had this guilt about it and always wanted to repay the debt. So after his career took off, and he went on to win six Grand Prix races, he repaid the debt with a $9,000 cheque he delivered to the store, and his managers also arranged for a ghost writer to write a column using Villeneuve’s name so that the Canadian Tire store could collect on his publicity value.
AA: I wonder what the person who received the cheque must have been thinking. A donation? No, actually….
CC: It seems like a truly Canadian thing to do!
AA: Very polite!
CC: Very polite. So I find that very interesting, and the image we have selected is a photograph by Allan de la Plante from 1979. It’s a close up of Gilles Villeneuve waiting at a start line of a race in his car, and you can see the focus in his eyes. But what’s quite interesting is that he was always sponsored by the companies Marlboro, which is a cigarette company, and Labatt Breweries, so you always see these logos prominently displayed on his helmet. But, ironically, I read that Gilles Villeneuve never drank or smoked, but of course he was a walking billboard for these companies.
AA: So how does a race car driver fit in this exhibition? What is the double take in this case? Is it the fact that he wasn’t drinking or smoking and he was promoting this?
CC: Yeah. And well, I think you see this race car driver and you think of strength and speed.
AA: And control.
CC: Control, yeah. And at the same time, to me, it’s sort of his politeness and responsibility of paying back this debt that he owed because, again, he didn’t have a lot of money as a young man who was working on these cars, and he stole these tools but really wanted to repay the debt to the company.
AA: We’ve discussed a lot of more “contemporary” Canadian figures in the exhibition. Are there historical figures included as well?
CC: Yes, the works span approximately four centuries. We’ve got some prints of explorers Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain, and actually, one of our earliest works dates from 1771. It’s a beautiful portrait of Frances Brooke, who is actually considered to have written the first Canadian novel.
CC: Mhmm, which is very interesting. And in a way it was sort of a promotional piece, which was to encourage Britons to visit the colony, that maybe we weren’t so backwards after all. And we also have fantastic oil paintings of James Wolfe and the Marquis de Montcalm.
AA: Excellent. And all of these works are available at Library and Archives Canada? They’re all a part of the collection?
CC: All of these works are part of the collection at Library and Archives Canada. We do have one fabulous loan that is a part of this exhibition, which is a loan from the Confederation Centre Art Gallery in Charlottetown. It is Edward Poitras’ “Some Were Heroes,” which is a contemporary installation portrait of Louis Riel. It’s actually a very ghostly image that’s on a darkened light box, which is hung from a black noose, so it’s a very dramatic piece, but it’s a part of a grouping around Louis Riel, the Métis leader. It’s interesting to see the perspective from an Aboriginal artist versus other depictions we have of Louis Riel.
AA: What would you say is the overall message in this exhibition? What can somebody take away from it?
CC: I think the idea that an image is worth a thousand words is quite true, and I think on first glance you might have one impression of a person, but there’s so much more to the backstory. And I think, what I’m hoping is that people learn a lot of interesting facts and that it creates dialogue; you go home and say, “Hey, did you know this about this person?” and you realize that Canadian history is full of really interesting stories. And portraits, in a way, are a window to the story, but there’s so much more, so much wealth of information that is held in an institution like Library and Archives Canada. So I’m hoping people will continue their own research.
AA: The other thing that I find interesting is those three words you’ve chosen. People might say they knew the first one and “Ahh, I knew the second one,” but the third one made me look at that portrait in a totally different way. I find that really interesting, surprising and captivating.
CC: And I’m sure that a lot of people will challenge us on the words that we’ve chosen as well, which I think is great. We want to have that dialogue between the institution and the visitors because, again, how do you narrow somebody down to three words? It’s impossible.
CC: So I’m sure a lot of people will come up with their own creative ways of interpreting somebody.
AA: For people visiting online, what can they expect to see?
CC: Well, online we actually have all of the works that are in the Double Take exhibition, so you can peruse through those images. I would also encourage people to visit our new Portrait Portal, which includes over 15,000 digitized portraits in the Library and Archives collection, and you can do some more exploration.
AA: You can create your own stories; you can find out what the double take is on those too!
CC: Exactly, and you’ll find a lot more portraits of the same individuals we’ve spoken about today. I’d also suggest that you do an archives search because there are some amazing documents that provide other pieces to the puzzle.
AA: Thank you so much for coming to speak to us about the Double Take exhibition, Carolyn. It sounds really interesting!
CC: Thanks for having me.
AA: If you would like to visit the Double Take exhibition, you can view it at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario from September 22, 2012 until February 24, 2013.
For more information about the onsite exhibitions and to visit the online virtual exhibition, check out our homepage at: www.bac-lac.gc.ca
On the homepage, you can also learn more about Library and Archives Canada’s extensive portrait collection and access LAC’s new online portrait portal, featuring over 15,000 newly digitized images.
Thank you for joining us. I’m your host, Angèle Alain, and you’ve been listening to Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you. A special thanks to our guest today, Carolyn Cook.
For more information about our podcast, or if you have questions, comments or suggestions, please visit us at www.bac-lac.gc.ca/podcasts