People on the East Side — Artist’s Statement

What follows is the Artist’s Statement I have drafted for the opening at Jacob’s Well this evening.

The photographs on display here are the result of a week in early May spent wandering around this neighbourhood: all around Pigeon Park, Oppenheimer Park, up Hastings almost to Commercial and a couple of blocks either side. The photographs on display here are a part of that story.

This is a part of that story, too:

Ride the number 20 bus down Hastings from Commercial Drive with a camera on your lap and most of a brick of film in your backpack. Spend half the ride staring at faces on the bus and half pressing your face against the cool window to watch the faces of people on the sidewalks. Recognize the Carnegie at Main. Get off the bus.

Keeping out of the alleys, wander for several blocks. Wait for some inspiration to strike. Pass a fellow standing next to a convenience store doorway. Let him say, “Hey,” as you pass. Stop. Introduce yourself and explain your little project. Say, “I’m taking people’s photographs.” Listen as he says, “I’m busy.” Understand that he’s selling something. Understand that that “open” and “friendly” look on your face is easily confused with an “I am interested in purchasing something” look. Understand that you probably can’t change that. Accept it. Say, “No. Thanks, anyways.”

Keeping out of the alleys, wander for several blocks. Wait for some inspiration to strike.

Starting across from Pigeon Park, walk the western half of that incredible block between Carrall and Columbia on the north side of Hastings. Know that you have seen nothing like this in all of Canada. Try to think of a place like this in Palestine. Fail. Try to think of a place like this anywhere. Quit. Understand that this place is unique. Understand viscerally that this place frightens you and amazes you.

Walk the second half of the block. Try to observe without staring. Know how beautiful people’s faces are. Arrive at Columbia.

Walk the same block again. Slowly.

Understand that you are already inspired. You are here because you were inspired.

Introduce yourself to the intimidating fellow at the entrance to an alley off Hastings. Say, “Hi. I’m David.”



Start a conversation. Take a photograph. Take another.

Go down an alley.

Wander until after sundown. Reluctantly admit that there is no light left. Wait for the number 20 bus. Watch it skip your stop as you slouch against the bus shelter. Wait for the next one. Catch it. Feel tired.


Come back tomorrow.


I feel lucky to have helped create these photographs. They are, in each case, the result of a human interaction between strangers. I made every effort to allow that interaction to be an interaction of equals, and as far as possible to use the camera as a simple tool, recording something – isolating it – without altering it.

Far more than any technical concerns, I would say my main work here was openness: connecting with strangers, being comfortable in unfamiliar situations. I was impressed by, and remain grateful for, how easily so many whom I photographed related to me. As humans we can become caught in cycles, in social patterns. We limit ourselves to interactions and communications which are already familiar. We miss opportunities to connect, favouring the practiced; “Howareyou?” “FineHowareyou?” When we face change or uncertainty, we can become open to new possibilities; suddenly “How are you?” means “How are you?” again. In times of great uncertainty we can forget about our facades and communicate more wholly with others, strangers included. The people whom I met on the East Side helped challenge my facades.

My sincere thanks go to the sixty-plus people who I photographed on these streets in May.

It is my hope that each individual pictured here will enjoy her photograph.

-david parsons
21 July, 2007

4 Responses to “People on the East Side — Artist’s Statement”

  1. Snorri Gunnarsson Says:

    Congrats on your show David, I read your words carefully and was intrigued by them. I will be in Vancouver next week, your show will be first on my list of things to enjoy.


  2. david Says:

    Thanks Snorri. The opening was great, we had about 60 people come by last night. I’m glad you’ll get to see it, do let me know what you think.


  3. Andy Levy Says:

    Dave…your words touched me. I commend you for your spirit and your talent.


  4. Andrew Lint Says:

    Right on david good stuff in your writing and in your work , I hope to get across to see the show. I have a place in my heart for this kind of stuff… Later A

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