Alexis Macdonald - A Beauty From The PastSunday, February 13, 2011
On Saturday night Rosemary, Rebecca, Lauren and I went to the Vancouver Public Library, the main branch on Robson. It is conveniently close to our favourite Next Noodle Bar. On the way we passed by a brand new building that seemed to be a condo. But I read on the plate glass window, Blanche Macdonald Centre – Downtown Campus. It brought back memories of my beginnings as a photographer in Vancouver.
It may have been sometime around 1978 when I was assigned by Vancouver Magazine to photograph Blanche Macdonald. She had founded a modeling agency in Vancouver quite a few years before but had decided to further her education in law at UBC. She wanted to help the people of her kind at a time when racial prejudice in our parts was quite rampant. I had never seen a Native Canadian model in any Eaton's, The Hudson's Bay Company, Sears or Woodward's flyers. The only "Indian" I had ever seen at the CBC was the one actor in the then popular Beachcomber's.
I photographed the striking woman who was a Métis and had begun her career as a model in 1949 as Miss English Bay. While taking her portrait Macdonald introduced me to a very tall and beautiful woman. It was her daughter Alexis. Blanche Macdonald asked me to photograph her.
Because of Blanche Macdonald’s connection with Native Canadian elders I was given permission to take photographs inside the new Arthur Erickson designed Museum of Anthropology. I have the thought that I would never ever be able to repeat this session in the same place!
Through the years I have run into Alexis Macdonald who had artistic ambitions. I believe she let go of any control of her mother’s school and became an artist. I have not seen her in at least 15 years. These photographs are primitive in their execution and the colour negatives have shifted badly so that I really cannot correct them. What you see here is the best I can do. But the pictures do reveal the quiet beauty of woman who might have been a famous model but chose otherwise. I have a fondness for these pictures even if they are unsophisticated in their execution. In spite of it Alexis Macdonald shines.