THE DRIVE PROJECT – Portraits of East Vancouver artists by Frank Vena

The title refers to both Commercial Drive – the locus of the project, and to the "drive" of artists
to practice their discipline.

October 2011, at The Cultch, 1895 Venables St., East Vancouver


  Is there a critical mass of artists and other imaginative individuals in East Vancouver to inspire each other, to argue, to fight and to make up, and in general, to endow the Drive with a creative bohemian environment attracting intellectual and artistic life?

Vancouver's documentary photographer and portraitist Frank Vena explores these questions and more in his latest body of work, The Drive Project. 

Vena's approach is unique. He uses the subjects as co-art directors for their own portraits. The images are the result of a collaboration of creative talents in front of and behind the camera. Throughout this interaction, the subject's individuality is imprinted into an image that is simultaneously informative and symbolic.


    LAND'S END – An essay by Christopher Grabowski, published in Geist 73

INTERVIEW – Geist editor Josh Wallaert sat down for coffee with documentary photographer Christopher Grabowski to talk about his project Land’s End.


  The west coast of Canada (about 27,000 kilometers of coastline), once supported scores of resource towns and other single-industry communities. Fish, forests and minerals were rich, abundant and conveniently located near myriad waterways for easy shipping to destinations near and far. These resources have been extracted in huge quantities for some two hundred years, faster and faster as each decade has brought new technology and new demand for the products.

The story of these places that emerged for Grabowski years later, at the turn of the millennium, is about “land’s end” in the geographic sense. It is also about the end of an economy based on the assumption of infinite natural resources, and about the frontier communities that made the resource boom possible. It is a story about missed opportunities, but also the many opportunities that are yet to be explored, particularly the chance for all of us to look at British Columbia’s resource and single-industry towns—those that have survived and those that haven’t—from a fresh perspective.

– Geist Magazine


KITES, GUNS and DREAMS – Images of Afghanistan by Canadian documentary photographers

UBC Robson Square, October 2004
Galerie [SAS], Montreal, June – August, 2005
The Photo Passage, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, July – September 2005
Viewpoint Gallery, Halifax, September – October 2005


   The images in Kites, Guns and Dreams span a decade of Afghanistan’s long and difficult history, focusing primarily on civilian life caught in the crossfire, in both the literary and political sense. In the words of Roger LeMoyne: “The theme of war's civilian victims seemed to be thrust upon me as I traveled to areas of conflict. The fate of civilians was inescapable and magnetically drew the camera.”

In the documentary narrative that brings in a counterbalance to the sketchy rendering of the news clips, the subjects become memorable. Amidst the heart-breaking devastation of their beautiful land, present in almost every frame, the images in this exhibition document with equal precision the exotic, the prosaic and the horrific in everyday life of Afghan people




“Truly wonderful photography.” – Robin Stickley, Global TV

“L'angle est journalistique, mais les regards sont avant tout ceux de trois hommes et d'une femme, émus et étonnés. Ils ont composé un panorama de l'Afghanistan d'aujourd'hui, nous confrontant à un paradoxe qui provoque un important débat intérieur devant la légèreté et la peur inextricablement confondues.”

–Nathalie Guimond, Voir

"Every war gets its own look, in part due to geography, the level of danger and access provided the photographers. Every war also gets its own censorship. More than one veteran photographer I know has told me that the shots taken during World War II were so horrifying the were forbidden to be processed.

Kites, Guns and Dreams is significant for its inside look and its intimacy, as if censorship was never a question, although the work covers the country's triple transformation over the span of a decade."

– Peter Goddard, Toronto Star

"Such is the incongruity of Afghanistan—a place where children flew kites even though they could be beaten or worse. In these photos, they do handstands, balance butterflies on their noses and swing like monkeys amid bombed-out shells of buildings. Their home is a place of eerie beauty, even though the lampposts that remain are so bullet-ridden they look like cheese graters and destroyed Russian tanks still sit in the street where they died decades earlier."

– Marlin Smulders, The Daily News

KITES, GUNS and DREAMS catalogue designed by Matt Warburton won the Gold Award at the international Summit Creative Awards as well as 2005 Lotus Award


  DOCUMENTS and DREAMS – Exhibition of Canadian documentary photography

Bfly Atelier, Vancouver, November 2003
Viewpoint Gallery, PHOTOPOLIS – Halifax Festival of Photography, October 2004

    DOCUMENTS and DREAMS gave evidence on the vitality and enduring relevance of contemporary photo documentary in Canada. It  featured a single image from in-depth projects by 35 established and emerging Canadian photographers.

Photo: Beverley Abramson

“With its images of poverty, defiance and incongruity, the photo exhibition Documents and Dreams reveals the world in a way seldom seen in mainstream media.” 

– Jennifer Van Evra, Vancouver Sun

“The breadth of the projects and artists represented is vast and impressive.” 

Alexandra Gill, Globe and Mail

“A dedicated minority yearn for a return to the past when photo documentarians like Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange invested months of their time – and immeasurable energy – in their subjects. Narrative 360 is a group of Canadian documentarians who have dedicated themselves to these types of longer personal projects and labours of love.” 

– Tracy Doyle, MacLean's

“Images you won't forget both powerful, beautiful” – Marilyn Smulders, The Daily News

Graphic designer Matt Warburton won an Award of Merit at the prestigious Lotus Awards for the DOCUMENTS & DREAMS exhibition catalogue


The Team

  WHERE FIRE SPEAKS –  Documentary narrative by David Campion and Sandra Shields
      Sandra Shields and David Campion spent two months living with the Himba, and this book, a provocative melding of photography and narrative, tells of the profound changes in the lives of the Himba.  
  Interview with Robert Semeniuk
      Robert Semeniuk, a renowned Canadian documentarian, human and environmental rights activist, has worked in over 80 countries for most of the world's major magazines. As a photographer and writer he has received numerous awards, including multiple top honours from The National Magazine Awards, The Science Writers Association and The Canadian Association of Journalists.
  In the Tyee magazine – David Beers talks to the makers of "The Corporation"
   Finbarr Wilson – Reconsidering Sontag on Photography and War
   Art Perry – Separate Worlds
   Robert Jensen – Objectivity routines and the Missing Context