E M P
FREEDOM In East Vancouver
Book Reviews for FREEDOM:
By Joseph Jones in The Volcano:
The first book to launch from EMP in 2017 is Freedom in East Vancouver: the Photography and Writing of Alan Fossen.
In his early seventies, photographer and writer Alan Fossen hails from the Kootenays and has lived in BC all his life. Resident in the Commercial Drive area of East Vancouver since the 1970s, he had long association with the radical La Quena co-op coffeehouse of the 1980s and 90s.
The main content of his book is 162 images spread across 190 pages. Some two-page spreads consist of a single photograph with no margins. Printed on heavy-stock low-gloss paper, colors leap from the page. A book size of 11 x 8.5 inches provides generous gallery space. Certain types of images recur. Human faces and graffiti seem to account for well over half of the photographs. No image is accompanied by a caption. The main source of orientation is the context provided by eleven section headings.
Fossen’s short essays appear under the following section headings: Fascism, Criminalization of the Poor, Holocaust, Marlene Maria Lucille Crazybull Vielle, Racism, Best Explanation of the Cold War, Politics of Food, and La Quena. The life story of Vielle stands out for its empathy and humanity.
The reflections on La Quena start with mention of Chilean refugees who fled the Pinochet regime in the early 1970s. Their activism is reported as the impetus for the creation of the venue. Latin American struggles in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Chiapas also came into play. On the home front, the Gustafsen Lake standoff loomed large. Fossen touches on the aspects of La Quena as a place that served as forum, informal classroom for political education, and anti-hierarchical workspace. His brief but honest account ends with mention of some of the internal activist tendencies and problems that led to the demise of La Quena.
As a record of place and time, two images might serve as bookends for the period depicted in the photographs. At the older end, a fading stenciled graffiti on a yellow brick wall proclaims: Boycott Expo – See Through Their Lies. At the newer end, a double-page interior view of La Quena captures a scene that vanished at the turn into the third millennium. Google research today provides only a few hints about the lifespan and demise of that significant social space. The positioning of the La Quena section at the end of the book creates a mood of times that already seem long ago.
By Murray Bush - Flux Photo
in The Vancouver Media Co-op
Electromagnetic Print has launched with a collection of photos and short essays by longtime community activist Alan Fossen.
I remember Al around The (Commercial) Drive a lot in the 80s and 90s – at marches, rallies, festivals, May Day and on the street, but mainly at La Quena. The Latin American co-op coffee house was a community beacon at a time when most activists were pretty hunkered down.
There were still a few Marxist study groups and the annual Grovel for Peace March, but it seemed like much of the activist focus was on Latin American communities in exile. The Sixties were long over, it was Mulroney , Reagan, Thatcher and the full-on US wars in Latin America. Political refugees flocked here – from Chile, Guatemala, Colombia, El Salvador. Many found some degree of relative safety, although the immigration process was brutal.
You can feel the mood in Al’s photos of graffiti from the time - Humans in captivity, 125 years of theft, Draw all you want – ya still get burnt, Capitalism is extinction – subvert or die. Wherever people came from they brought their politics with them, and that’s where much of the colour seemed to come from as well. The photos are haunting - sparsely populated, determined.
There’s a great photo of an outdoor concert at the end of Kerry Coast’s introduction featuring a backdrop of banners from many of the active organizations of the time – Kinesis, Tools for Peace, Ecos De Mi Pueblo. Many of the posters through the book are centred on struggles to the South.
Al’s short essays on topics including fascism, criminalization of the poor, the politics of food and racism might seem strident. They were written in the left language of the time – capitalism, imperialism, class.
The selection gives the reader a peek into that time when there were a lot of bars and shadows on activism in Vancouver. The most fascinating thread for me was the unfolding story of La Quena's pivotal role in the activist community and its ultimate demise at the hands of Revenue Canada.
Sunday March 19, 2017, 7pm
Cafe Deux Soleils, 2096 Commercial Drive
Book signing Photo prints for sale