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Every Building on 100 West Hastings

james hörner

this book purports to be authored by Stan Douglas. A quick breeze through the table of contents displays a host of authors, none of which is him. He does not edit the book, this task falling to Reid Shier. The book features 32 historical and present day photos of the region, of which Every Building on 100 West Hastings only 2 are by Stan Douglas. In fact, many of the present day photos are by Reid Shier. So why the hell is his name on the front cover? I think the reason is primarily because the book was originally printed as a companion piece of some kind to the exhibition featuring Stan Douglas' large composite photo Every Building on 100 West Hastings. However, when taken out of the context of the exhibition, the book has very little to do with Douglas' impressive and important photo.

While the text relates to his photo conceptually, only the shortest of three essays seriously addresses it as a subject. What follows is a brief overview of the three main essays:

"The Worst Block in Vancouver"

Jeff Sommers and Nick Blomley provide a fascinating context for Douglas' photo. They outline the history of the area now known as the Downtown Eastside. They look back to when it was the heart of the city, and then became known as Skid Road. They follow the social transformations that have manifested in the area, how the concept of community has shifted.

This essay is probably the strongest in the book in terms of framing the photo, yet could be read without any relation to the photo. It is the longest essay in the book, and could easily be expanded as a book focussing on the shifting nature of downtown Vancouver. The writing is clear and enjoyable.

Urban Regeneration

In this piece Neil Smith and Jeff Derksen explain their views on gentrification. Using several European cities as an example, they outline an model of gentrification that focuses on "five interrelated characteristics":

After the highly readable first essay this comes across as heady stuff, written in academic style, but very relevant to the modern day perspective on the Downtown Eastside.

Haunted Spaces

The final essay in Every Building on 100 West Hastings is a short piece by Denise Blake Oleksijczuk. In it there is an attempt to link Stan Douglas' photo with the missing women of the Downtown Eastside. The author states:

My purpose in referring to this crisis is to conjure up a metaphorical neighbourhood, one where the Downtown Eastside's dead and missing women are woven into the deceptively articulate and transparent image of Douglas' composite and impenetrable urban block. [99]

Upon reading that string of adjectives my stomach jolted. While Douglas' composite says a great deal about urban geography I have trouble seeing it as any kind of metaphor for the missing women. It is to some viewers, of course, but I find that commentary much less captivating than the other two essays. Overall, the few words in the book that actually discuss Douglas' work are the weakest.

The initial essay, "The Worst Block in Vancouver", is reason enough to buy this book, however. I've worked in the area for the past few years, and this essay has given me a renewed appreciation of the history and changing face of the Downtown Eastside and those who inhabit it.

published by Arsenal Pulp Press and Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery
ISBN 1-55152-135-0

james hörner edits canadian content.

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