When images are organized in a sequence each one breathes meaning into the other. Social media and online historical photo databases have made it popular to pluck a single image, identified through a subject search, and interpret it according to the dictates of one historical watershed or another. I took the opposite approach to explore the William James City of Toronto Archives lantern slide collection (Series 2119). Watching the fluid movement of thousands of images float by on the screen I attempted to identify the mentality of the man behind the lens and piece together the thinking behind his organization of images into sets.
89.22 James looking at bust (for post on photographer’s fascination with phrenology click here)
In a recent post I discussed how late in his career artist George A. Reid organized his photos, sketches and press clippings into a scrapbook. Similarly, photographer William James incorporated his earlier photographs into a collection of lantern slides with newer images taken in the 1920’s. These two personal visual archives served to chart their creative output and offered them an opportunity to arrange their records in a publicly meaningful way.
However, the arrangement that James’ created for his lantern slides is not intact. His son Norm James and grand-daughter Mary-Lou Griffin owned the collection before it was purchased by the Archives in 1976. Christopher Hume in William James Toronto Views: Lantern Slides from 1906 to 1939, quotes Griffin on how the collection became disorganized.
It was stuffed in boxes, bags and envelopes… [and] sat in my parents’ basement for years and years. Some of the negatives were stuck together and were in bad shape. During the mid-1960s, I spent nearly three years going through this stuff. People used to call my dad all the time to see if he had a picture of this or that. So that’s why we numbered each print, each one.
Because the fragile glass slides were stored in wooden boxes they retain some vestige of their original organization into sets. The thematic unity of sets 80 (to view on Flickr click here) and 85-86 illustrating the work of the British Welcome League is one example. Nevertheless, the storage chaos means that the lantern slide collection contains many incongruous combinations of images that make James’ interpretations difficult to reconstruct. The captions, moreover, are an amalgam of original information left by James with additions based on the anecdotal recollections (see example below) of his son and grand-daughter along with supplementary information from Archives staff.
First and foremost, the slide lectures were an opportunity for James to display both his ability as a photographer and the range of his work. His goal was to record Ontario life, with a focus on Toronto, through views of its landscapes and social, industrial and commercial life. In preparing for his lectures (many which could have been merely planned and not delivered) James used his older photographs combined with new images to illustrate selected topics of public interest. The clustering of slides relating to Phrenology, Prehistoric man and Ethnology among different sets in the collection reflects a climate of debate around race and immigration that was both academic and political.
Sir Bertram Windle’s Extension Education Lectures
Drawn by advance publicity, one thousand people turned up at the first of Sir Bertram Windle’s lectures in January 1920. The subject, “Pre-history in the British Isles”, was explored over twelve lectures on successive Friday afternoons. Offered free of charge as a University of Toronto Extension Course, they proved a hit, drawing the same large number each week.
Professor of Anthropology at St. Michael’s College and lecturer on Ethnology from 1919 until his death ten years later, Windle’s depth of culture enabled him to draw vivid connections between the history of man and art, folklore and literature. “The lectures are interesting, instructive and by no means devoid of humor and the enjoyment of them are increased by the accompanying lantern slides which have been made from excellent photographs.” Globe Nov.8, 1922 p.16
The James’ lantern slides made from printed reproductions of ethnological subjects and museum busts reflect the interest stirred up by the annual lecture series. Windle’s presentations likely inspired the photographer to develop sets on particular topics that required him to supplement his own his photographs with published illustrations from various sources. Possibly he developed one for copy-cat lectures; so popular were Windle’s lectures that local daily, The Telegram published the full text of each.
Interest in other cultures, at the level of the picture press was expressed typically in the July 3, 1921 Toronto Star Weekly in the portrait of the San Francisco dancer who was to perform her “Sensational Indian Dance” with the Ziegfield Follies. Above the dancer appears a cameo of “Princess Fatima, Sultana of Kabul, Afghanistan, Now in the United States En Route to England with Her Three Sons who will Enter College There. She Wears a Jewel in Her Nose.”
This type of costume-drama ethnology had a tenacious hold on the popular imagination. Working within the tradition, James’ photographs of a North American aboriginal man in both his traditional and European clothing dramatized contrary cultures embodied in one individual. The bare chested tattoo portrait of Charlie White, pioneer Toronto tattoo artist, is another example of ethnological illustration/circus side-show subject attractive to photographer and news readers.
Sir Bertram Windle’s lectures outlined the global breadth and historical depth of culture. They sensitized many Torontonians to the common experiences and values that united humanity. From the podium Windle asserted that the theory of human evolution was no longer theory but fact. The academic brought cutting-edge thinking to a conservative, colonial city.
The principle of cultural relativism and embrace of pluralism did not penetrate far. At the same time that the lectures were taking place, private agencies and public organizations were pressing the government for a policy to exclude particular kinds of immigrants from entering the country.
Rejecting Undesirables and Hand-picking Immigrants
Public pressure based on the labour unrest and unemployment of the post-war years pushed the Dominion government to become more hard-line on who should be admitted into Canada. The dominant rhetoric, as reflected in the Globe took the form of concern over the risk to public welfare from those who had refused or were unable to assimilate.
Occurrences in Canada during the war revealed on a number of occasions the shortcomings of the immigration policies of bygone years. Canada should not again, … permit the herding together of non-English-speaking Europeans who follow a number of the objectionable customs and usages of the lands whence they come. Many of these ways are unsuitable to this country, some are a menace to the health of those who practise them as well as to the people around them, while others are dangerous to the whole community.” “It is evident that the sources and volume of immigration must be limited by the possibilities of Canadianizing the newcomers.” Globe Jan. 23, 19, 1920
A report from New York three weeks later reported that thirty immigrants from Malta, bound for Canada, were stopped at Ellis Island by Canadian authorities and sent back. The immigration official stated, “Owing to labor conditions in Canada we have been instructed to enforce the exclusion law to the letter. … Most of the aliens are now coming from Southern Europe and we are sending a great many of them back. We are handpicking the immigrants for Canada now.” Globe Feb. 19, p7
“Firmly Established On the Soil”
In the autumn of 1922 the Dominion government announced a new immigration policy and land settlement scheme. The objective was, “… to promote immigration by the careful selection of agricultural workers in the countries of origin and by proper direction of the newcomers in Canada so that they will become firmly established on the soil.” Globe Sept. 11, 1922
Shortly after, under contract to the provincial government, William James packed a suitcase full of wooden boxed slide sets and set off to lure “the right kind of people” to rural Canada.
Among the least known of James’ photographs are his rural landscapes and documentation of southern Ontario farms and livestock. Many of his countryside views were part of his stock in trade for the local dailies, however others show a stronger documentary focus. These displayed the details of farm life required for his illustrated lectures to prospective farmers. Most of them, concentrated largely in set 44, can be viewed by clicking here.
Alert to the commercial opportunities of the tour, James introduced himself as a potential agent of photography supplies to London dealers.
He also took copious photos for future lantern slide illustrated travelogues. Set 112 features images of England and Germany and incorporates such printed material as press clippings, ticket stubs and German Entry Visa.
The other form of labour in short supply back in Toronto was female domestic servants. James’ documentation of the city’s amenities and lively social scene may have encouraged young single women to immigrate.
Recent revisions to the immigration policy demanded all mechanic, artisan and labor class immigrants to have $250 in savings and proof of transportation to his destination. (Globe Dec. 1, 1920) On his return to Toronto James criticized the policy, pointing out that those who had the type of savings required as a condition of immigration preferred to stay home. There was, he insisted, an untapped source of ideal immigrants in the Hebrides Islands where the fish stocks were depleted leaving many in dire straits.