Book Review: Images from the Likeness House

by valrac4_a3kqdy

Chief John Scow’s house at the Kwakwaka’wakw village of Gwa’yasdams. Charles F. Newcombe, November 1900. Black-and-white recent contact print from a dry-plate negative. PN 240 – Royal BC Museum/BC Archives. Newcombe’s note about this photograph in his Register of Negatives and Lantern Slides reads “enlarged by telephoto.” It is the only photograph in the Royal BC Museum’s ethno-historical collection that was taken with the use of a telephoto lens. It shows the design of a Sea Monster painted on the front of Chief Scow’s house in Gwa’yasdams, on Gilford Island.

Images from the Likeness House
by Dan Savard
Royal BC Museum / $39.95 / 208 pages / soft cover

Dan Savard’s Images from the Likeness House looks at interactions of photography enthusiasts and First Peoples in B.C., Alaska and Washington from the 1860s to the 1920s. This collection of 300 images creates a fascinating visual record of the First Nations people as they were perceived by outsider photographers. In his text, Savard explains the early photographic formats and techniques used by these professional and amateur photographers. Even the (detailed!) captions are full of all sorts of intriguing information. Images from the Likeness House is a rich ethnohistorical resource that will certainly be enjoyed by history buffs and anthropology-loving types, but I imagine it’s the photographers who will get the biggest kick out this book.

Woman spinning yarn at the Coast Salish village of Musqueam. Charles F. Newcombe, December 5, 1915. Direct duplicate negative. PN 83 – Royal BC Museum/BC Archives. Charles Newcombe took two, three of four photographs of C’elicia spinning mountain goat hair at Musqueam; only two have survived. C’elicia uses a spindle stick (a tapered rod) and a spindle whorl (the disc) to spin the hair into thick yarn. This yarn could then be used to weave a Salish blanket similar to the one she sits on.

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