Visual narratives in Waterton Lakes National Park 1874-2010




Smith, Trudi Lynn

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In this dissertation I investigate photographs not only as images of something, or as objects we can hold, but I also investigate how they are acts grounded in place. That is, I consider the photograph as event. The backbone of my research is a hybrid social science and visual art undertaking in which I produce both academic texts and art installations through visual inquiry into the intensely imagined places that are Canadian national parks. I examine how the myth of wilderness is made concrete in visual images of Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. I explore the situatedness of photography through ethnographic and archival research into the conditions that produced over four-hundred photographs of Waterton from the late 19th century to the present. This research advances understanding of how specific historical photographic events shape dominant systems of environmental knowledge in Canada. I explore the intertwined histories of place and representation in Waterton over the past 150 years and how they emerge in the present. To unravel the politics of representation in national parks in Canada I address three key questions: First, how do images that portray and represent wilderness in Canada affect not only our imagination about national parks, but our experiences in, and actions in, national parks? In particular, how are photographs not just representations of national parks but how do we form a relationship to space and place through them? Second, I carry out a visual investigation of Waterton Lakes National Park to study the photograph as event, and ask, how photographs, not just as images and objects, are acts grounded in place? Finally, I ask: What new approaches can be deployed to investigate existing visual collections and to bring them to bear on the history and present of the national park space? I describe how visual methods can generate new ways of thinking about photography and place.



anthropology of art and media, history of photography, Canadian National Parks, visual studies, Canada, art practice as research, relational aesthetics, archives, art and social practice, visual anthropology, ethnographic methods