A picture-perfect nuclear family holding hands on Miracle Beach, an unrecognizably cube-shaped Vancouver Public Library, the chalky pastels of roadside motels – these are images of a somewhat foggy past, at once familiar and yet completely alien. It is this feeling of recollection tinted with distance that we see in It Pays to Play: British Columbia in Postcards, 1950s-1980s, Peter White’s exhibition catalogue of B.C. Tourist postcards since the 1950s. These cards are blinding in their saturation and optimism, showing British Columbia not as it was, but as it aspired to be, with its beautiful scenery, urban landscapes, and leisurely visitors on display.
It Pays to Play is broken into three chapters: Landscapes, Leisure, and Urbanism, with each section equal parts images and contextualization. Throughout the book the reader is struck by how incredibly abundant the natural resources are in British Columbia, and it only serves to emphasize the gray bleakness of modernity’s invasion (the smoke stacks billowing in front of the mountains in the image before the cut is particularly affecting). This tension serves to contrast the bland urban images of cars on oddly vacant streets with the bright, colourful images of well-known British Columbian landscapes. Ultimately, It Pays to Play offers a chance for us to consider how optimism and naiveté can affect our judgment when it comes to our surroundings. Often it is only when we take a step back and look at the bigger picture that we can see past the romanticized. Peter White’s introduction invites us to wonder about how knowledge, belief and value are constructed, and forewarns us that “some reflection upon the ideological inclinations of [the 50s-80s] may be of relevance as we consider those of our own era.”
It Pays to Play was co-published with Presentation House Gallery in 1996. Peter White is an independent curator and writer based in Montreal.