PNW 2015 Pt I: Vancouver

Last July, I went back to British Columbia for the first time since 2006 by taking the train from Edmonton to Vancouver.  I didn't realize it had been that long since I'd been to BC until after my very delayed train finally departed from Edmonton.  I guess in recent years, I've been more Eastern-focused within Canada (not so much within the US, however).

Upon arriving in Vancouver, I met up with the talented Bryan Mollett (, who would be my host and guide during my stay.  We ended up wandering through a lot of the less-gentrified parts of the Lower Mainland, especially the residential areas of East Van and New West.  I noticed through hanging out with Bryan that his photographic style and ethos began rubbing off on me, which only got more pronounced once I got back to Edmonton.

As much as I enjoy the serendipity of candid street photography, it can be a mixed bag at the best of times, and like anything repeated ad nauseam, it can get stale.  The calm (yet at the end of the day, exhausting) days long meanderings through Vancouver's facades and vantages was a nice change of pace for me.  Not to say this concept was entirely new to me, but before this trip, my focus was always on getting candid street photos, especially when out of town.  Now, I see myself doing less candid street and more street portraits, when the mood strikes, and far more focus on social environments and vernaculars, which is probably evident to anyone checking my Tumblr's more recent photo posts, and if not, will become evident in future posts.

But I'll leave that more to future posts for now, I guess.  The point is that Vancouver was the start of a switch in intent and focus in my photography.

Now, despite the focus on artsier, cooler areas that may be the last vestiges of Vancouver's San Francisco North persona, there was a palpable sense there was something being lost.  In the midst of endless condo cranes and overseas investors driving an already strained real estate market to the edge, Vancouver's quirky, bohemian, laid-back appeal is being displaced by empty condos and glossy designer babies.  But I guess even San Francisco isn't really San Francisco anymore. 

I think it would've been interesting to be able to fully experience Vancouver circa 1994.  You know, Expo 86 happened and rejuvenation was well underway in areas like Yaletown, bringing in the first generation of "solarium cum playrooms" as Mordecai Richler once said.  This was when the first prototypes of the oft-derided Vancouverism first appeared, which for all its flaws, was one of the first times in postwar North American planning there was an idea to bring back old virtues of density and walkability and accessibility (eg building for families in high density areas).  But, aside from the beginnings of Vancouverism, 1994 Vancouver still wasn't Hongcouver, although it may or may not have seemed like it at the time.  The downtown peninsula wasn't yet a stale palette of seagreen glass and hippies still hung out at Kits Beach all day.  Although a lot of the positive attributes to '94 Vancouver were even more present in the '60s and '70s, I think the early Vancouverism-style revitalization was alright before it became so dominant.  Plus, Vancouver in the '60s didn't have SkyTrain, so there's that.

Unfortunately, in this era of commodified globalization, I don't see the situation vis-a-vis real estate costs and gentrification withering away anytime soon, despite an uptick in protests.  Vancouver's endlessly drizzly and overcast winter weather may be shit, but in a world terrified of snowpocalypse, Vancouver is one of the best bets you'll get in Canada in terms of mildness.  And unlike the US, which has a seemingly endless gamut of cities, Vancouver is pretty much the only option in that area of the country.  Sure, there's Victoria, which also has a miniaturized version of Vancouver's problems, but for those seeking a big city experience (which so many do in Western Canada when they flock there in their early 20s), Vancouver's the only option, especially if you want to be on the North American mainland. 

Across the border, Seattle is dealing with complaints of gentrification and rising real estate costs, but due to the relatively provincial-yet-corporate (read: healthier job market) nature of Seattle, the issues there seem almost laughable by comparison to Vancouver.  And even if you're priced out of Seattle, you've got Tacoma directly south, with 1 million people and all the trappings of an urban mid-sized city (it's probably the Northwest's best kept secret, city-wise, but don't tell anyone... #keeptacomafeared) and for those wanting a big city experience, Seattle is a short distance (though long commute) up the I-5.  And then there's Portland further south, which, despite it's post-Portlandia trendiness, is still relatively affordable and is able to maintain a good chunk of its local culture that attracts so many from the Midwest and now California.

But more on that later.

I'm glad that I was able to tour the last vestiges of the old Vancouver, especially in New West, which was not only surprisingly hilly (Prairie boy ftw), but also very urban and filled with character, even in the parts starting to get filled up by high-rise condos.  I doubt it'll be like this in 10 years, so I'm glad I got to witness it beforehand.  Strathcona in East Van probably had the most character of the places I went to in Van, although I have a soft spot for Mount Pleasant, and despite the glossier veneer, North Van was quite visually interesting.

Banal Yaletown tour on my last day in Vancouver aside, I didn't really see much of the polished new Vancouver.  As someone increasingly interested in photographing the "here and now" of human environments, I actually wouldn't mind heading down to Metrotown or Richmond or maybe even Coal Harbour next time I'm in Vancouver, which is hopefully not in another 9 years.  There's something interesting about these places and how they seem to be at the zeitgeist of current socioeconomic trends and perhaps a bellwether for things to come in this country for people living outside of Southwest BC and the Golden Horseshoe. 

And now for the main event... les photos...