Sunday 25 November 2018

Turn, Turn, Turn...

 “To everything – turn, turn, turn.
There is a season – turn, turn, turn.
A time to every purpose under heaven.”
 - Music and Lyrics by Pete Seeger

“To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under heaven...
A time to get and a time to lose,
a time to keep and a time to cast away.”
- Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, Verses 1-8

“We are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”
- Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister

“My sins...I do not deny, but I trust that it may be said of me in the ultimate issue, ‘Much is forgiven because he loved much.’ For I have loved my country with a passionate love.”
- Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister

I have been an amateur historian all my life: reading history; studying history; teaching history; reconsidering history. One of the things that has always fascinated me about history is the way it morphs and transforms over the years, depending on one’s point of view, moment in history, and political agenda. “Winners” and “Losers” tell very different stories. To insist that there is only one way to interpret history is dangerously naïve.

Which brings me to the current debate about Sir John A. Macdonald’s place in Canada’s history. For decades, there has been pretty much one version of Sir John A.’s contribution to our history: respected Father of Confederation; skillful first Prime Minister; builder of our country. Yes, he drank too much, and there was that nasty Pacific Scandal, but he was an immensely powerful and enlightened force for good in our country.

Except....not everyone is buying that narrative any more. Many voices, especially those from Canada’s Indigenous communities, are now saying, ‘Hold on...this is the man who was responsible for passing the infamous Indian Act of 1876 that institutionalized racism in our country and paved the way for forced assimilation, residential schools, broken treaties, and unfathomable suffering.’  They say that the traditional version of Sir John A. reflects a white/colonial/settler bias that is fatally flawed.

Personally, I am pleased by the emergence of alternate narratives. They turn history into a living, breathing presence in our lives, rather than a musty museum piece. Bring on the controversy, say I, especially in the name of justice and reconciliation.

Which brings me, circuitously, to the Prince Edward County Photography Club, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and Pete Seeger.

Let me explain: the County Photography Club issues a monthly theme challenge to its members. One of the highlights of each meeting is seeing the imaginative and skillful ways that club members interpret these themes. Certainly they have sharpened my photography skills over the last three years.

The theme for the November meeting was “Turn, Turn, Turn”, a seasonal riff on autumn’s wondrous colours. However, I decided to take the theme in a very different direction. I looked up the Pete Seeger song of the same name, and then went back into the King James Bible to read Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season...”, the Biblical inspiration of Pete Seeger’s famous folksong.

And a light went on – surely these words describe what’s happening with the debate about Sir John A. Macdonald’s place in Canadian history.

“A time to keep and a time to cast away,” indeed.

With that inspiration in mind, I spent an October day in Kingston and Prince Edward County photographing evidence of Sir John A’s considerable presence in our area: signs, statues, museums, locomotives, etc. What great fun! I then sat down with my trusty Photoshop software to create various collages and ‘reinterpretations’ of the photos. The five images below grew from that process.

Upon seeing these images, a friend said to me, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll offend someone?” My response: “Well, I certainly hope so. Otherwise, I won’t have done my job!” After all, when people get outraged and offended, they reveal what they truly care about. With passion and good will on all sides, a productive – albeit lively – conversation can begin. And that, my friends, is how society evolves. Much better than a collective shrug of resignation.

Thank you for reading my rant. I hope you appreciate my images, even if you don’t like them.

No comments:

Post a Comment