He was a simple man taking simple pictures. That is what one person had to say about the current exhibition at the Montreal McCord Museum by early 20th century photographer Chow Dong Hoy.
Hoy lived in the B.C. interior at that time, where the melting pot of cultures was well under way. His subjects are of Chinese, First Nations, Eastern European and mixed-descent people, all with the same, non-smiling, serious look that is characteristic of early photography.
What makes this series of photos so unique is that unlike photographers of the time who set out to romanticize the First Nations and record ethnic types, Hoy simply took photos of those who wanted their photos taken. Most of his subjects were labourers, a fact that was emphasized in the photos by the hands on the knees, legs uncrossed. He had a small studio and also took photos of the residents hanging around the local store or in front of their houses.
C.D. Hoy was the first son to a very poor family in China. He was sent to Canada in 1902 to reap some of the riches Canada was said to have. He ended up moving to the B.C. interior, learning one of the local Native languages and transporting supplies to local communities.
There are a number of First Nations subjects in the photos. My favourite is nicknamed “the three banditos”; three native blokes who look like they could have just jumped off the bus from Mexico. They exude coolness, with cowboy hats and arm bands. One is wearing moccasins and another is suppressing a smile. It is almost timeless.
The exhibition, called first son, is a testament to the marginalized people of the era. It runs until May 1, 2005 at the McCord Museum
(690 Sherbrooke W. 514-398-7100).