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The final days of a Commercial Street grocery store, boarded up, ready to be torn down.

Shifting Perspectives

Often, when Vancouverites think of the Downtown Eastside, they imagine the stark contrast between the nostalgic naivety of its past and the deer-in-the-headlights nature of the area today. What they see, driving or busing through the area , are the historical storefronts and architecture clinging precariously to life, glowing with soft reds and greens lit not by neon but by the strobe lights of emergency vehicles. It's akin to visiting a hospice. At almost every corner, there is a confrontation with the harsh realities of mental health struggles, poverty, and drug addiction that cast a pall over the historical neighborhood, hinting at a community teetering on the brink of collapse. Fourteen years ago, people might also have seen a man carrying a Nikon camera over his shoulder, exploring the alleys and rooftops along those twelve or so city blocks with a passion, driving him to capture the DTES’ unique inner-city stories and landscapes. He was hoping to become a great Vancouver photographer, aiming to emulate his hero, Henri Cartier-Bresson, a photographer revered for his patience and mastery of capturing the decisive moment. Bresson's style of street photography, even further back in time, involved hiding himself and his Leica camera lens behind floppy hats, scarves, and handbags. Fourteen years ago, that type of inconspicuousness didn’t seem necessary. A man walking about the DTES with a big old Nikon camera didn’t really raise eyebrows. However, over time, the atmosphere of that part of Vancouver shifted dramatically, and the leisurely hobby of strolling Chinatown and Hastings Street in search of subjects to shoot became increasingly perilous. That man with the camera was, of course, me. As the challenges of my hobby mounted, my strolls along Hastings Street and Chinatown grew less frequent. The proliferation of misery and despair relegated any thoughtful, introspective photography to the sidelines, where it was replaced by the quick, fleeting shots of a new generation armed with phone cameras, about the size of Bresson’s Leica 35mm rangefinder, and images curated as social media posts instead of on gallery walls. Here, I share some of my favorite photographs from those years on the DTES and beyond. Journeys to British Columbia's Central Coast, Mexico, and San Miguel de Allende have all enriched me, and hopefully my portfolio too. Sadly, a few years ago, all the camera gear I had accumulated and worked with was lost. And so today, ironically, like those born on the banks of social media, I rely solely on a small, discreet phone camera. I pretend I am Cartier-Bresson. Whether my photography ever reaches the status of "great" is uncertain, and while I may lack a lot of Bresson’s patience, I still strive to capture and share the moments that I find beautiful. On my best days, the joy of photography, the decisive moment, remains as fulfilling as it was fourteen years ago. Norman


Norman Fox Photos

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