This exhibition, culled from local photographic archives, offers insights to Vancouver history from the late 1950s to the mid 1970s. The title refers to an important Canadian television personality at that time and her program “Juliette and Friends”. The selection of eclectic images highlights photography that was produced from commercial purposes, business records and paying customers. Featured here are photographs from the archives of CBC Vancouver, the commercial photographer Dick Oulton, and the Penthouse Cabaret Night Club. Primarily comprised of interior shots, this exhibition shows Vancouver at a time of cosmopolitan ambitions and North American suburban ideals. The city’s lively downtown entertainment scene attracted celebrities from around the world, many of who also appeared in local CBC television productions. These archives bring to light the significance of collections as documents of cultural history. Juliette and Friends offers clues to a key period in Vancouver’s development and at the same time provokes questions about the utilitarian functions of photographic production outside the dialogues of photographic fine art.
The Dick Oulton collection, for example, is indicative of the everyday production of a mid-century working photographer. In the studio he shot formal advertising portraiture, family portraits and weddings. His commercial assignments covered a wide range of subjects, and resulted in documents of businesses, industrial products, building sites, nightclubs, wrestling matches, hairdressing championships, promotions, celebrities and the construction of the hydroelectric facility in Kitimat. The exhibition emphasizes his studio processes and will be highlighted by a series of extraordinary stereographic slides and portraits of female models who were likely his friends.
The materials from the CBC collection mark a lively period for local television, and will foreground the uses of photography in television production, including images of lavishly designed sets, production stills and ephemera. Largely the production of in-house photography Alvin Armstrong and contract photographer Franz Linder, their images document an era when studio programs were locally conceived and produced (before the opening of the new CBC building in 1975) in a garage and auto showroom in the West End.
The Penthouse collection, only recently “discovered” in boxes, will reveal rarely documented aspects of the social scene of Vancouver nightlife and the Penthouse’s heyday as a supper club. Opened in 1947 by the Filippone family – who continue to operate it – the Penthouse Cabaret on Seymour Street in an important Vancouver landmark, and an emerging cultural institution of sorts. The exhibition will bring this unique archive to light for the first time. Interior scenes of the club, performances, dining, parties and celebratory moments, often photographed by one of the Filippone brothers, reveal its rich life as an after-hours joint, burlesque and strip club, fancy cabaret, and music venue. The unique genre of photography, glossy promotion portraits of showgirls and celebrities, here often autographed and addressed “To Joe” (Filippone) will also be featured in the exhibition.
The idiosyncratic quality of these collections reveals Vancouver’s lesser-known stories, often through its seamier side of tawdry decor and bizarre fashions. The famous faces alone – Diana Ross, Jerry Lewis, Guy Lombardo, Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr. – that appear throughout this exhibition are indicative of a culturally complex small town society striving for glamour and good times, and of a city on the verge of profound transformations of expansion and development. Dick Oulton’s photographs will also be featured in the fifth issue of our ongoing series of publications Lynn Valley.