Images from the Likeness House

Cover of Dan Savard's new book. The RBCM caption reads: "This man has been variously identified as a chief from four different areas of BC’s interior, including possibly Tyee Jim from the central interior (tyee means “chief” in Chinook, a trade language). John Wallace Jones or Thomas McNabb Jones photograph, about 1897." Source of this photo:

There is an exciting new book in the pipeline on early photography and First Nations of the historic period.  The author, Dan Savard, is senior collections manager of the Royal BC Museum’s anthropology audio and visual collection.  The promotional blurb reads:

On a winter’s day in 1889, Tsimshian Chief Arthur Wellington Clah visited Hannah and Richard Maynard’s photography studio in Victoria to have his portrait taken. “Rebekah ask if I going likeness house,” Chief Clah wrote in his diary, “So I go, to give myself likeness. Rebekah stand longside me.” In Images from the Likeness House, Dan Savard explores the relationship between First Peoples in British Columbia, Alaska and Washington and the photographers who made images of them from the late 1850s to the 1920s.

I won’t be here (have some bottom sampling to attend to in Haida Gwaii), but Dan is giving a free public lecture and will sign copies of his book next week at the RBCM.

The details are:

“Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From the Likeness House: Photography and First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and the interior of British Columbia, 1860-1920

LIVE@LUNCH series.

Noon to 1:00pm

Newcombe Conference Hall, Royal BC Museum

Free admission. Bring your bagged lunch and enjoy this monthly exploration of a variety of engaging topics related to RBCM research, travel, collections, and exhibitions. There will be plenty of room for lively discussion, active learning and a sharing of local expertise.”

By the way, the RBCM has a lively facebook page if you are interested in that sort of thing.

You can view a few promotional thumbnails of Dan’s book on this RBCM page which hint at the contents, but bizarrely they password protect these*, including the picture of the cover of the book which presumably they are hoping to sell!!  This doesn’t exactly encourage outlets such as this one to go overboard promoting the book.  There is a short review of the book at Village 900 radio’s blog as well.

I have to admit I am not crazy about the promotional blurb though — the highlighting on the imperfect English of Chief Clah is unnecessarily exoticizing and a little insulting.  I bet Chief Clah spoke three or four highly diverse aboriginal languages in addition to English, and I wonder just what the point is of using that snippet.  I mean, I’ll buy the book anyway!

Anyhow, this looks to be an excellent book and a welcome addition to a growing literature on early photography on the Northwest Coast.  Although I have never heard Dan give a public lecture, he has guided my students through his domain more than once and is highly knowledgeable, and also a very effective speaker in that context so I think those able to make it will be in for a treat.  It looks like you can buy a copy of the book there, or order it from

* including a photo labelled “cramped storage” showing, well, cramped storage at the RBCM – a main reason they are planning a huge expansion.  Why on earth they wouldn’t want that picture in wide circulation, I don’t know, it is a good advertisement for their cause.  Oh well.

15 responses to “Images from the Likeness House

  1. Hi Quentin, Since you mentioned this on your blog,

    I have been doing some reading on the development of the dunescape on the islands and would appreciate reference to any papers you or your colleagues may have contributed in the last few years regarding archaeological potential at various depths, both inland and on the coast. Thank-you


    • Hi Karen,

      Well, this years bottom-sampling is going to be more Hippoglossus stenolepsis and less Pleistoceneus holocenii !

      I don’t think we have anything particular written up on terrestrial potential. Underwater I think Millennia Research’s Naikun Wind Farm survey most likely has a better formal description of underwater potential and methods. The underwater stuff I’ve had involvement in has been very specifically targeted judgemental approaches: high resolution bottom modelling and then picking out, say, a small delta terrace or a lake outflow as a target for investigation.

      In more general terms it would be great to see the issue taken to the next level like this approach in England. The links on the page below are really informative and in depth and lead one to many different aspects of the assessment of submarine potential, both inherent potential of human activity and the potential that archaeology will survive or have visibility (two quite different variables)

      If something else comes to mind I will post it here, and other people may have references as well.


    • Karen: our ‘Naikun’ report also has some discussion of the change (and surpising slowness thereof) of the dune fields, comparing LiDAR data to early air photos.


  2. This has been a long time in the making and should be an excellent book. I will be getting a copy too.

    I am not put off by the marketing using the Chief Clah quote for a couple of reasons – it explains a good title for the book and it is the first indication I have ever seen that there are surviving written diaries by First Nation’s people from the 1800’s. Makes me want to see that diary.


  3. I’m with APM on this. I like the quote precisely because it is in Chief Clah’s words and I think his English is beautiful. I love the phrase “Likeness House” for a photographic studio. It’s probably a direct translation from one of the indigenous languages he speaks, and it’s so evocative, and, well, poetic. Also the quote explains the title, which I wouldn’t have understood otherwise.

    Will definitely look for the book here in Vancouver. I wonder if Dan will be doing any kind of a talk here.


  4. APM, Heather

    Hmm, well the title wouldn’t need explaining if they had used a different title that wasn’t part of the quote: so, circular reasoning. But I feel outnumbered already – I just have a bee in my bonnet about the impression this gives of unsophistication via broken English. It is a catchy title that will sell books which in this case is a good thing.

    Good point about the diary though. I found a cool 1912 diary of an Inuit Boy online the other day: every entry is “made duck soup; boiled tea, ate”.


  5. OK does no one else think that “bottom sampling” sounds, well….a little riske?

    Or am I just having a juvenile moment…

    Interesting book – it can go on my shelf right beside First Son: Portraits by C.D. Hoy (Faith Moonsang)


  6. I too caught the “bottom sampling”. ok Q, elaborate!


    • I worked with a guy called “Shredder” once – so named because of the effect his vegetarian diet had on his own underwear. Funny thing was, he was proud of the nickname and would kind of puff up and point his thumb at his chest when he heard it.

      But no, despite your and mberkey’s puerile minds, the only bottom sampling I’ve done in ernest has been with a vibracore.


  7. I’m with the others on the appropriateness of the Clah journal snippet; rather than being degrading, I found the quote to be challenging to the popular stereotype! If I remember my directed study course on Chinook Jargon, the ‘longside’ is a Chinookization of the English. I’m sure the chief spoke Chinook as well.

    CBC ‘Ideas’ had a series on recently that used the diaries of Innuit or Inuvialuit taken (well paid to go) to be on display at a German zoo in the mid 1800s. The observing and recording was on both sides! And of political interest was the fact that the literacy rate for much of the coast where they came from was much higher then than now!

    I’ve been pawing back and forth through Swanell’s superb photos and journal of the northern Interior for some months now; I just love old photos and journals, maybe I should have been an historian!


  8. didn’t put a comma between the ‘well’ and ‘paid’; not sure if they were well paid; but the trip to Germany was fatal to all through diseases caught I think. And I meant to add that I’ll be buying the book!


  9. The Globe and Mail has a good review of this book today. Interestingly it opens with mention of the quote that gave the book its name and mentions that the chief spoke several languages. Got to wonder if the reviewer was reading this blog.


  10. “Images from the Likeness House” is a fantastic book that I recommend to everyone interested in the history of photograpy in the Pacific Northwest.

    Dan Savard is to be congratulated for writing a truly excellent book on this subject.


  11. This book just announced as a finalist for a BC Book Prize.


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