Who would suspect that in researching visual reference for a recreation of Hanoi to be filmed in Vancouver I would discover the striking and poignant work of Greg Girard. A Vancouver based photographer whose work is deeply influenced by the East, his palette echoes the hues of Hong Kong, Tokyo and Hanoi. Girard’s early work responded to the presence of various Asian cultures in the city of Vancouver. Meanwhile he identified with Japanese photographers from the 1960s and 1970s for what he describes as their ‘anti documentary’ approach, along with key figures in Western photography such as Garry Winograd, Lee Friedlander and Duane Michaels.
Living in Tokyo in the 1970s Girard later went on to photograph extensively in Hanoi, but it was the early work in Vancouver that intrigued me as it seemed to set the template for his later explorations. Within it Girard perhaps embodies a postmodern, Trans-Pacific consciousness that speaks to the transitional, fluid nature of culture and identity in the post colonial, diasporic world, particularly in the urban metropolis. It was the presence of the Asian diaspora in Vancouver that led Girard to his particular sensibility. Only later did he venture to Asia itself, initiating a kind of reverse cycle whereby these later images confirm the instincts of his past ones as he journeys to the theoretical roots of a culture that had reached him via the routes of migration or what Fernando Oritz refers to as transculturation. Girard’s nightscapes, photographed in the early 1970s in Vancouver, feature an exploration of long exposures and the effects of various artificial light sources on different film stocks, predominantly color reversal; Fuji-chrome and Ektachrome, utilizing varied processing techniques. In this sense he was in key with significant developments within cinematic language that can be seen in cinematographer Owen Roizman’s work on The French Connection 1971 or Gordon Willis’s Klute 1971 and All The President’s Men 1976. Such work was embracing ‘practical’ light sources despite the associated color shifts. Girard’s images are imbued with a modernity, expressiveness and sense of the subjective. The aloneness and emptiness that he captures is expressed via minimal compositions and the lack of a human presence. This reflects the ‘Terminal City’ nature of Vancouver that is key to its identity, a port town, it stands positioned on the precipice of the Pacific, one eye constantly glancing towards Asia. It would be that same geographical proximity, diasporic cultural infusion and unique atmosphere that would later inspire the great science fiction writer William Gibson to pen the novel Neuromancer in Vancouver. He states; ‘All of the Japan in Neuromancer was cobbled together from whatever tiny fragments I’d run across in Vancouver’ and goes on to observe ‘I’m a believer in psychogeography to some extent, so I assume that places are most deeply unpacked by residents’. In this sense one can suggest that Vancouver as a modern metropolis represents a dynamic space of cultural complexity and transition that this gives rise to great creativity within its residents, who exist within but are not necessarily from its culture.