Stan Douglas

Above: The Stan Douglas photo which the creator considers to be My Best Shot. Credit: Stan Douglas.

Potlatching

"It took about two and a half weeks of editing in Photoshop to make the final image." Says Stan Douglas of this above photograph, which he considers to be "My Best Shot." The photo recreates a scene at Vancouver’s Hastings Park racing track, and was made in 2008. What was the photographer trying to achieve? A dull photo of some people dressed from a movie-costume rental company? If so, this was well achieved. The photo is supposed to be a social comment on riots and crowds as a force for social change.

Stan Douglas: "The Hastings Racecourse crowd were emblematic of the postwar period, when the advent of consumerism provided a way of rebuilding the economy. It showed the newly created middle class: people who were making things being able to buy those things, a sort of perpetual-motion machine for capitalism ... a lot of the 30-odd crew members were on costume and makeup because we had to dress and do hairstyling on so many people ... there was a tiny black population [in Vancouver, Canada] in the 1950s. My father had emigrated from Tobago to Canada to go to university. So I had one person I imagined would be a Caribbean immigrant, and another an American immigrant, each with different outfits based on where they came from. Hastings Park wasn’t too far from Chinatown, so there’s an Asian person there, too."

On this topic I would have been interested to see Douglas responding to Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay. Or maybe even looking at the topic of the Occupy movement. There is so much rich material around this theme of the power of the crowd and the cult of the street-protest. The issue for me in Douglas's work is the extreme lack of tension. The photo has taken great effort to realize and create but with so little benefit for the end-user--the viewer. The picture is just so dull-and-boring--like a BBC costume drama.

Here is a classic--text book--example of photo-art as perverse fetish. (The picture cost a hundred thousand dollars to create and weeks of work in post-production.) The final image seems to me to be a treatise on potlatching--the intentional giving away (or wasting) of vital resources as a form of ritual.

(6 April 2018)