Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971

Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971

Photographer: Stan Douglas

(Canada, 2008)

Not on View

Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum
The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Purchase Fund
2013.21

Abbott & Cordova, 7 August 1971

Photographer: Stan Douglas

(Canada, 2008)

Not on View

Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum
The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Purchase Fund
2013.21

Few developers would plaster a monumental image of a riot on new construction meant to revitalize the neighborhood. But that’s exactly what one did in Vancouver, hiring Stan Douglas, one of Canada’s leading artists, to recreate and photograph a 1971 confrontation between police and pro-marijuana demonstrators. The so-called “smoke-in,” at the building’s location of Abbott and Cordova streets, revealed a clash of social values as the historically poor neighborhood began to gentrify with a middle-class influx, represented by the well-dressed onlookers in the photo’s margins.

History Painting?

Not many photographs are as large as this one, the size of a 19th-century history painting. But history paintings tended to celebrate mythological heroes or royalty or military victories, while Douglas captures a more local and complicated moment: a clash between marijuana backers, overbearing police, and a privileged middle class.

It's Complicated

Several fairly isolated social groups come together in this tense scene: a well-heeled middle class, the police, and marijuana-supporting hippies, not to mention the folks just passing through. The staged image brings them altogether in a single, compressed moment so we can closely examine the forces at play.

Pics or It Didn’t Happen

The phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” could be the caption for this photo, which celebrates a forgotten moment in local Vancouver history. Its grand size proclaims, “Look at what’s happening.  Remember it. It is important.”   Focusing on lost histories is a common subject in contemporary art, as artists reveal how our usual ways of processing events can overlook important moments of history.

Bird’s Eye View

Look at where you are looking from: high above the scene. Douglas took the picture from a crane—a powerful viewpoint—as if endowing the viewer with a special ability to look back in time.

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