Autorretrato (Self-Portrait) - Fred Schiffer
Buenos Aires, Argentina; ca. 1956-7; Courtesy Jennifer Levine
When Fred Herzog spoke at the opening of his one-man-show at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1997 I will never forget his little speech. It hit home. While these were not his exact words he said, “I am thankful to the VAG for this show, but I wish I had been discovered when I wasn’t so old and in better health.”
Many in Vancouver might not recall the name – Fred Schiffer. I believe without any doubt that he was the best photographer Vancouver ever had. He died in 1999.
When I arrived with my Rosemary and two daughters to Vancouver in 1975 Schiffer advised me to have patience if I wanted to be a photographer in the city.
In Buenos Aires, where he was the first photographer to use electronic flash, he became a favourite of Juan Domingo Perón. When Perón asked Schiffer to photograph his wife Evita, he responded, “No, I don’t like her.”
Before Schiffer died, he and I had a project in mind. We compared notes and it seems that the architects, politicians and business people he had photographed when they were young I had when they were older. In particular we would have shared in a gallery our portraits of Arthur Erickson.
At his funeral I was with Schiffer’s widow Olive when a man approached her and asked her, “How would you like to retain the memory of your husband and his photographs for posterity? Donate your archives to us.”
To me the man was a like a buzzard hovering over a dead body, I was shocked. But I am glad to report that this city’s Jewish Museum & Archives has achieved a laudable job in displaying Schiffer’s long suit of excellent photographs.
But in this 21st century we have not begun to
understand that an archive is more than documents and photographs and perhaps a
few objects. So much of this century is recorded in the internet. Our Vancouver
newspapers and tabloids are not storing all the digital links to articles
published either in hard copy or on line.These will be memories that will be lost. One person who is helping us understand this is Brewster Kahle and his internetarchive.org
I believe that Vancouver is a city with a poor memory for its past.