Photographs

“…while my indentured life escapes me
admire me then
do so when
this beauty subsides
when my name ages
do so when I transmute, shift my name
and become the ss komagata maru.”

- “Ten Anonymous Journeys” from Dream/Arteries by Phinder Dulai

Many of the photographs of the Komagata Maru were taken on the first day of its arrival. On that day, journalists and photographers were able to board the ship and many of those iconic images resonate with us today: the expression on the face of young Balwant Singh facing the camera, another featuring the arms of Gurdit Singh outstretched in a welcoming gesture, several of Immigration Officials and politicians deep in discussion on board the Komagata Maru, still more of hope, joy, and the excitement of arrival. After the first day, journalists were not allowed on board the Komagata Maru and - moored and isolated in Burrard Inlet – the passengers were much easier to portray as anonymous.

Images in this new collection emphasize the “spectacle” of the Komagata Maru – photographs not only of the ship, but also of the life and activity surrounding the ship on a daily basis. Numerous pleasure crafts and private boats are pictured in Burrard Inlet, surrounding the Komagata Maru and filled with curious onlookers eager to gawk at the captive passengers. The passengers are on display and forcibly kept in the liminal space of (non)arrival. Similarly, intimidating surveillance boats are seen patrolling the Komagata Maru. These overt signs of power and authority displayed the strength of Canadian Immigration officials and paralleled the legal and political inertia they sought to foster. The crowds gathered (on shore, in the streets, at the docks) to witness a potential ‘battle’ between the Komagata Maru and the HMCS Rainbow, illustrate the daily spectacle the ship and its passengers had become.

Contrast these “images of everyday spectacle” to the “images of the everyday” that are also featured here. Pictures of sawmill workers, special occasions, lumberyards, canneries, cremations, and street scenes illustrate the joys and struggles in the everyday lives of the pioneer community. These modest images of humble origins are scattered across libraries and archives across Canada. Collected together here, they present strong evidence of an emerging, vibrant community redefining the idea of Vancouver – a city no longer proud to overtly claim itself to be a ‘White Man’s Country’.