El Dorado in the White Pines: Representations of Wilderness on an Industrial Frontier

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:50 PM
Salon 7 (Palmer House Hilton)
Siobhan Angus, York University
This presentation will consider the role played by photography in the historical development of industrial capitalism on Canada’s northern frontier. Landscape photography of early 20th century Canada highlighted raw natural resources—or not-yet-commodified nature—training Canadians to associate abundance and national destiny with the resource-rich north. The visual conventions of landscape naturalized capitalist domination over nature by presenting nature as something external that can be controlled, owned, exploited or protected. Through an analysis of two neighboring communities on the Canadian Shield—Cobalt, a mining community, and Temagami, a wilderness vacation destination—this presentation demonstrates that the instrumental and preservationist gazes would not necessarily have been understood as oppositional in the early 20th century. While the two ways of imagining nature initially seem at odds, in Canada, wilderness and capitalist development are fundamentally linked. Photographs allowed viewers to envision new futures, where commerce and art would come together in a nation-building project.