Ms. Tanya Southcott
PhD Student, Faculty of Engineering, School of Architecture
This summer I will be conducting research for my project Constructing Heritage: Architectural Photography in Montreal at the McCord Museum as part of the Fred and Betty Price Research Award.
Through this research I will be exploring the use of photography to resist top-down projects of urban renewal by various heritage activists operating in Montreal in the 1970s and 1980s. This project draws on two specific collections in the Notman Photographic Archive – the respective fonds of Save Montreal and GIUM (Groupe d’intervention urbaine de Montréal). Save Montreal (precursor to today’s Heritage Montreal) was a volunteer-based group of architectural activists that came together in 1974 in the wake of the controversial demolition of the Van Horne mansion. GIUM emerged over a decade later in the mid- to late- 1980s as an independent group of planners that organized various colloquium-charettes in response to growth and development in different areas of the city. This project explores how the practice of heritage activism evolved in Montreal in the early years of the architectural preservation movement by comparing the ways in which these two groups used photography as a tool to describe their relationship to the built environment, and to construct and promote ideas of heritage value and significance in Montreal.
I am currently a Ph.D. student in the School of Architecture. My research explores the relationship between architecture, photography and memory that emerged in Montreal during the decades following the Second World War, focusing more specifically on different photographic responses to demolition and its threat.
Ms. Julia Morgan Charles
PhD candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
The research project for which I was awarded the Fred and Betty Price Award, entitled Industrial Iconography: Construction site photography in Montreal, was conducted between June and October of 2013. I was primarily interested in the construction site photography of Deakin & Stewart and Anglin & Norcross in the Notman Photographic Archives. As laid out in my proposal, I contended that early photographs of Montreal construction sites such as these could potentially shed light on the evolution of concrete construction in Montreal, especially during the early 20th century. Internationally, the circulation of photographs of construction sites and finished buildings—such as those made famous by the Hennebique archives in France—played a major role in establishing the bona fides of concrete during the early years of the 1900s, when it was still regarded as a largely experimental medium, and eventually contributed to an “industrial iconography” which laid the foundations for the modernist movement decades later.
My larger dissertation project, Isotropic media: Towards a Cultural History of Concrete in Montreal, interrogates the mediating role of concrete materiality in Montreal, treating the building technology as a vector through which particular cultural forms, aspirational politics, desire, and memory have been consistently negotiated and reified in the city for over a century. As such, research conducted in the fonds was instrumental in establishing the evolution of new building technologies using reinforced concrete after its introduction to large-scale construction in the early 1900s.
The holdings of the Deakin & Stewart (D&S) and Anglin & Norcross (A&N) fonds depict projects that range from 1917 to 1955; in general, this documentation confirmed my hypothesis that the use and acceptance of reinforced concrete in construction in Montreal had a uneven and fragmented history; while most large-scale buildings used a fairly standard structural steel frame construction reinforced by concrete, they nonetheless clung to historicist forms such as brick and limestone cladding, and other ornamentation, in order to disguise the appearance of the concrete. It was not until much later, during the 1950s and 1960s, that the exposed concrete emblematic of modernism, and later Brutalism, became more popular in local construction.
More than anything, what the photographs in the D&S and A&N fonds demonstrate is the massive shift in scale in the built environment that the city underwent in the early decades of the 1900s. While modernization in Quebec is often traced to Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, these photographs make clear a tendency towards urbanization predating that by at least forty years. Partially enabled by new materials such as reinforced concrete, buildings of unprecedented scale suddenly became possible. As buildings heights in the city were limited to ten storeys (or 40 metres) until 1927, the scale of buildings such as the Chateau Apartments—which was right at the limit in terms of size—would have constituted a drastic reorientation of the cityscape for Montrealers.
Ms. Cheryl Thompson
PhD candidate, Department of Art History and Communication Studies
This research was conducted over the months of June, July and August, 2012.The project, titled “Blackface Minstrelsy in Canada: Modes of Production and Cultural Memory” was presented as a conference paper at the Universities Art Association Canada (UAAC) Conference on 3 November 3 2012 as part of a panel entitled, “Black Canada: Culture, Memory and Resistance/ Le Canada Noir : La culture, le souvenir et la résistance.” The research I conducted at the McCord was also used to write a book chapter entitled, “‘Come One, Come All’: Blackface Minstrelsy as a Canadian Tradition and Early Form of Popular Culture,” which will appear in a McGill-Queen’s book in 2014 entitled, Towards an African-Canadian Art History: Art, Memory, and Resistance, ed. Charmaine Nelson.
This project examined how (and where) blackface minstrelsy was performed in Montreal, how humor was used, and the underlying pathos that was mobilized by the performance of racial stereotypes. My aim was to conduct a cultural, historical study of minstrelsy in Canada and raise questions about its continued practice. By examining the way black women were caricatured in minstrelsy, i.e. the misrepresentation of their bodies, hair and skin colour, this research also informedmy dissertation entitled, “Cultivated Ideal: Race, Class and the Spectacle of Beauty in Canada, America and the Caribbean.”
Within the McCord’s Notman Photographic Archive and the Paintings, Prints and Drawings Collections are some of the most substantial minstrel artifacts in Canada. While at first the curatorial staff worried about whether there would be enough depth to the collection, I located numerous photographs, advertising prints, minstrel posters, blackface political cartoons, and portraits that all reveal a deep, and long history of minstrelsy in Montreal (and across Canada). Taking this project a step further, in 2014, I hope to embark on a book project tentatively entitled, “Blackface Minstrelsy as a Localized Entertainment and Consumer Culture in Southern Ontario” that will explicate the material culture of blackface minstrelsy, including its objects, artefacts, the social and cultural settings of its performance, and the beliefs and values of its audiences.