Catching the Light: The Life and Photography of Victor Post
Runs from Tuesday, Jan. 29 to Sunday, March 31
Opening reception to be held on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.
Musée Héritage Museum in St. Albert Place, 5 St. Anne Street
Call 780-459-1528 or visit www.museeheritage.com for more information
When it comes to big names in local photographic history, you can’t get much bigger than Victor Post. He left us far too soon when he died in 2001 at the age of 48.
He also left a legacy and a body of work that demonstrated his prodigious talent and his many and varied interests over most of his life. That body of work included a wealth of photographs and negatives, a collection of cameras, his extensive notes and other writings, his letters, and other materials including his access badges.
Boxes and boxes and boxes of history were kept in storage collecting dust all these years. That material now belongs to the people of St. Albert.
Ann Ramsden, director of heritage at the Musée Héritage Museum, explained what makes this collection so valuable.
“What makes Victor Post different to other photographers is that he had access to the British Royal family, King Hussein of Jordan, the Pope, and a number of high profile sporting events in Alberta. He had access to significant people,” she says. “His photography documents those visits and those events.”
That history is about to see the light of day. Catching the Light: the Life and Photography of Victor Post opens next Tuesday. The public will get to see a small sample of his work and gain insight into who Post was.
The collection is extensive. So much so, in fact, that staff members at the museum are still sifting through it all, trying to finish the accessioning processes necessary for any museum that acquires any item or collection.
Early last year, Post’s widow, Kathy, called up the staff at the museum to offer up the entire collection. Ramsden and former archivist Rene Georgopalis travelled to Kelowna to meet her to discuss the potential of accessioning the collection.
“Usually, it’s best practice to go to the person’s house especially even to have some discussion regarding what your donor is thinking of donating before it actually comes to the museum. We try to avoid having people actually bring stuff in without that initial discussion,” Ramsden says.
Everybody was in agreement. After returning to Alberta and making preparations to accept the collection, the two then travelled back to British Columbia to package it all up.
Georgopalis, now the executive director and archives advisor at the Archives Society of Alberta, remembers that occasion and the work involved with a particular fondness.
“It was a long day. I had other moments where I had to go visit donors to see what they were thinking of donating. The amount of material was much smaller with them than it was for the stuff that we got from Kelowna.”
There was so much material that not Georgopalis, Ramsden, curator Joanne White or even Vino Vipulanantharajah (the archivist who was contracted to finish the job after Georgopalis left) could really comment on the full extent of the collection.
Vipulanantharajah said that there were 12 series of photographs in total and one sample series had 113 photographs and 365 negatives. “That was a big series,” he says. “Another series has 1,000 negatives and 60 photographic prints.”
Regardless of the daunting task of sifting through the material, both Vipulanantharajah and Georgopalis remained eager to become immersed in it all and not just because of its immensity. It was also because of the scope of Post’s interests that it covered.
“I definitely was keen about it,” Georgopalis says. “Sure, it’s a large acquisition but not unusual in its size. There were other archives who have been given much larger donations.”
“For me, it was important because of the role Victor played in the community. He was a nationally recognized photographer for a small town like St. Albert. He did a lot of experimenting with science. That also makes it interesting. You don’t see a lot of science in archives all the time.”
The big picture
Post’s interest in photography developed at in his early teens. A science and technology buff, he first started doing freelance work for the St. Albert Gazette when he was only 15.
Over the years of his chosen career, he played with different techniques and processes including Kirlian photography, contact print images of electrical discharges of objects subjected to high voltage. It makes a coin look like it has sunbursts of blue electricity.
He also loved holography and lasers, and was only seven when a science experiment at home necessitated the attention of the fire department and the media. He went on to win the national science fair as a teen, and no damages were reported.
That experience led him to gain entry to the World Youth International Science Fortnight in London, England where he met Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dennis Gabor, a man with whom Post would have a lasting friendship and correspondence.
Post was also known for his love of ham radio, an interest that he shared with King Hussein.
Of course, it’s the camera that brought him accolades and acclaim, and also served as his bread and butter. He took stock photos when necessary, was a wedding photographer to many, and even did land survey photography for the oil and other industries.
At various times, he served on the board of directors for the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, plus he was a member of the Royal Photographic Society.
He was also the official photographer for the provincial government, a position that afforded him the opportunity to photograph many visiting dignitaries, including many members of royal families of various nations, and was busy snapping pictures the day that Pope John Paul II came for his historic visit to Alberta in 1984.
He took pictures of sports legends, including the now infamous shot of Wayne Gretzky in all of his 1980s glory off the ice as he promotes his breakfast cereal, Pro Stars.
“I have to say I laughed because I forgot what he looked like in the early 1980s: the hair, the corduroy jacket … ,” Georgopalis recalls.
There was one little problem involving the unpleasant matter of organizing it all. Post, prolific, though he was, did not have a great filing system.
“One of the primary concerns in archives is the arrangement of the collection. You want to keep the order that the creator kept it in. You don’t want to split up things and make subjects on your own. The arrangement itself tells you about the creator,” Georgopalis explains.
The problem was that the collection was basically a hodgepodge when it was donated. “There was no order. It was just randomly put in boxes and kept in the basement,” she says.
It was left up to Georgopalis to come with her own ‘artificial’ arrangement, a process that would add days, weeks, and months to a job that was already substantial in its own right.
“It’s a big process especially with a big collection like this. It’s a time consuming thing.”
Her work involved sifting through the collection, a ponderous process at the best of times.
“I don’t describe each individual negative or print,” Vipulanantharajah explains. “To do that would take a year. It would take a long time.”
He said that this is because some series are really just repeated photos of the same subject, like St. Albert Place or a flower. There would be no need to describe each one, only the grouping.
Another time-consuming task is putting things from one container into another, a process called rehousing. This is necessary to maintain the archival integrity of these documents over time.
Every item that is accepted into the collection then needs to be entered into a computer database.
Vipulanantharajah says that he would describe himself as a patient person, and laughs.
“There’s a lot of repetitiveness, particularly with rehousing, just working through them. Sometimes all you’re doing is rehousing that day so you have to be patient.”
He was originally scheduled to finish before the end of January but it now looks like the project will be extended to wrap up before March.
When completed, the Victor Post collection will be an invaluable resource to the local community and beyond.
“It covers a vast amount of material,” Vipulanantharajah says. “It’s not a local thing either. It’s not just St. Albert. It’s a very vast collection. It’s about a person who had a vast amount of interests. It’s a very broad collection, more so maybe than any other particular collections. A wide audience will probably be interested in this collection.”