In 1974, photographer Hubert Hohn was cruising Alberta Avenue and neighbouring communities—past its pre and post-war stucco and fieldstone houses—with his 35 mm camera. A year later, he focused his lens on the new suburbs pushing Edmonton’s boundaries.
Hohn was considered a catalyst of his time for photography in Western Canada. His work resulted in a vast collection of photos that recorded the architectural stylings and suburban landscapes at two growth surges in Edmonton’s history.
The collection of photographs present a fresh look at often overlooked residential settings.
“I was interested in showing that there are aesthetically meaningful ways to see suburban environments that were widely regarded as highly unaesthetic,” said Hohn.
Both series can now be seen at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA).
Born in Arizona in 1944, Hohn immigrated to Alberta in the late 1960s. He had studied photography with American master Ansel Adams, and completed the two Edmonton projects while he was curator at the Edmonton Art Gallery.
The exhibit reflects the importance of including local perspectives at the gallery, said Leonore-Namkha Beschi, AGA interpretation coordinator.
“It’s important to have an exhibition program that is representative of Canada’s cultural diversity and heritage,” she said.
The Edmonton Entrances series, with its richly-coloured and detailed entries, show how homeowners of the late 1940s and 50s brought uniqueness to what could be a monotonous suburban landscape. The neighbourhoods include Alberta Avenue, Delton, Spruce Avenue, and Parkdale-Cromdale as well as others like Cloverdale and Westmount.
“The decorated entrances seemed like a form of architectural design or perhaps folk art that I thought should be documented,” recalled Hohn.
In some there’s a Ukrainian influence, while others demonstrated a flair for aesthetics such as an occasional art nouveau screen door or faux stone work.
“It was a way to show social status, or simply to express their individuality,” said Beschi. “The series is quite powerful as a group, almost like a portrait of the owners.”
Hohn took all photos under the same overcast midday light at the same distance and angle. With this simplicity and repetition, he was able to emphasize each doorway’s uniqueness.
“There were no aesthetic choices on my part—the art should speak for itself,” said Hohn of his chosen documentary style.
His 1970s series, Suburban Landscapes, took a different approach. Photos are black and white and play with lines and perspective. Because they were taken at midday, when suburbs are generally empty, they have a kind of landscape, painterly appeal.
“Driveways, telephone poles, backyard fences, pavement repairs . . . are not art, but can I frame combinations of shapes, tones, and textures that are aesthetically appealing?” said Hohn of his different framing style. “In Edmonton Entrances, we have aesthetic content without aesthetic choices on my part; and in Suburban Landscapes, we have aesthetic choices of non-aesthetic content.”
As part of the AGA’s community outreach, Beschi has invited community league members of neighbourhoods represented in the Entrances series for a private tour and perhaps further discussion.
“I think it’s a nice way of seeing the architectural heritage of the city,” said Beschi. “It’s also something people can relate to, so people can see a part of themselves in an exhibition.”
HUBERT HOHN: EDMONTON ENTRANCES AND SUBURBAN LANDSCAPES
Runs until Nov. 11, main floor of the Art Gallery of Alberta (2 Sir Winston Churchill Square)
Free for youth 17 and under & for Alberta post-secondary students; $12.50 for adults
Tue and Wed: Free Access Night, 5–8 pm
Ab Ave tour: July 6, 2-2:30 pm. Sign up: timecounts.org/alberta-avenue/events/7250
Featured Image: Leonore-Namkha Beschi, interpretation coordinator at the AGA, stands beside images of entryways that permeate Edmonton’s mature neighbourhoods. | Kate Wilson