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Stalking Stanley Park’s Haunted Beauty

The pandemic sent photographic artist Roger Larry in search of ‘the gothic sublime.’

David Beers 24 May 2024The Tyee

David Beers is the founding editor of The Tyee and serves as current editor-in-chief.

Like most of us, Vancouver photographer and filmmaker Roger Larry found his world turned upside down by the pandemic. Its rude shock compounded other challenges in his life. When he turned to his standard means of relief, strolls through Stanley Park, these escapes now became tinged with a sense of foreboding awe.

Larry describes the feeling as something like the “the gothic sublime.”

What does he mean by that? As Larry writes in his artist’s statement:

“Eighteenth-century philosophers described the sublime as the limit of human understanding, where the human mind meets something vast and impossible to digest: experiences of the sublime could include confrontations with great precipices and mountain vistas, with the infinity of the sky, or with the darkest depths of the sea.” That sensibility infuses the atmospheric landscape paintings of the Romantic period that can feel uplifting.

But Larry notes “there was a flip side to the ennobling romantic sublime, a gothic sublime... Instead of stepping back from the sublime precipice, the subject of the gothic sublime descended into an incompressible nightmare from which there was no reassuring emergence.”

A dark-toned black and white photo of a forested park trail bending in the mist.
The Bend at Ahka-Chu by Roger Larry. From the exhibit Below the Sea of Fog at Gallery 881 in Vancouver.

Such was the artist’s mood as he roamed long familiar wooded trails just a few blocks from his West End home. “We could say that the pandemic itself was a kind of sublime formation with the virus overwhelming our little lives.”

On those walks Larry took a set of photos, on display until June 15 at Gallery 881 in Vancouver. The ghostly images feel all the more weird when it’s understood they were made in a kind of outdoors diorama. Stanley Park, after all, is a construct of nature walks appended to a glassy, globalized downtown.

A black and white photo showing a park trail with trees on the right side and the exposed roots of a fallen tree on the left.
Beneath Ahka-Chu by Roger Larry. From the exhibit Below the Sea of Fog at Gallery 881 in Vancouver.

Larry will give an artist’s talk at the gallery at 2 p.m. on June 15, the day the exhibit closes. As he writes in his artist’s statement:

“In the year or so after COVID, I thought more about my photos and also about their location and I realized that the abyss I felt in Stanley Park during COVID was not, of course, solely my own. It was also entwined with the history of the Coast Salish people, the original Indigenous inhabitants of the lands now called Stanley Park.

“Before mounting this work, I went on tours with Coast Salish guides. I will not be sharing the stories the Coast Salish shared with me on those tours, that is their prerogative. However, I was advised by my Coast Salish guides that using the original Indigenous place names in the titles of the work would be a respectful way to allude to what has haunted the park long before me or COVID.”  [Tyee]

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