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Robert Keziere | The Days of Augusta

For over forty years Robert Keziere has remained one of Vancouver’s most unheralded artists, which is surprizing considering that the city that has staked its international reputation on photography and the members of the Vancouver School of photoconceptualism. While his name may be largely unknown, you have most likely seen his work as he has quietly documented the social and cultural growth of Canada’s third largest city since the 1970’s in his role of chief photographer at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the work he undertook as a freelance photographer.

It was through his work as the chief photographer at the Vancouver Art Gallery that I first became aware of Robert Keziere’s name and his work and in particular his photographs documenting an exhibition of work by Ronald Bladen and Robert Murray. I was so taken by these images in 1992 that I reached out to Robert asking if it would be possible to obtain copies of the photographs from this exhibition for my collection. While that initial inquiry was unsuccessful I couldn’t help but notice just how often his name would appear as the photo credit.

Robert’s name has remained with me over the years and few years ago I stumbled once again across the book, The Days of Augusta, published in 1971. This time the book took on an added layer of meaning as my wife was in the final throws of researching her Masters Degree at UBC Okanagan and as I was to discover the subject of this book, Mary Augusta Tappage Evans’ life, dovetailed nicely with subjects of her research, Sonia Cornwall and Vivien Cowan and their connection to Williams Lake and the Mission Onward Residential School.

Delving into this book once again I immediately became enchanted not only by Robert’s sensitive photographs but also by the stories and life of Mary Augusta Tappage Evans as told to and edited by Jean E. Speare. Looking at this book with fresh eyes I immediately saw the makings of a powerful and important exhibition and once again sought out Robert to inquire if this had ever been done before and if not would he be interested in doing this. Not long after our first conversation it came to light that Robert still had the original recordings of Mary Augusta Tappage Evans from which Jean Speare edited the text for the book.

Robert engaged the help of Ann Pollock and undertook the task of working on the two remaining recoding tapes Robert had of Mary Augusta Tappage Evans. The first tape is of Jean Spears' talking with Augusta and which forms the text of the original book and the other features Robert and Augusta in her cabin one summer afternoon, recording a few songs and stories from which Ann has distilled a wonderful 20 minutes of Augusta sharing stories playing the harmonica and singing cowboy songs. It’s an incredible experience being able to finally hear Augusta in her own voice and makes for an incredibly moving and powerful exhibition.

Born in 1888 at Soda Creek in the Cariboo, Mary Augusta Tappage was the daughter of a Shuswap chief and a Métis woman who had fled the prairies after the defeat of Louis Riel during the Riel Rebellion. At age four she was placed in a Roman Catholic mission where she was punished for speaking her Shuswap language. After nine years, she was permitted to live with her grandmother until she was married, at age 15, to George Evans whose father was Welsh and whose mother was Shuswap. As her husband was Welsh she was declared non-status, though she retained her self-sufficient Aboriginal ways, serving other women as a midwife while raising her own children. Augusta was still a young woman when her husband died and she never remarried stating that once was enough. Augusta died on August 16, 1978 and at the age of 90. She was buried in the native graveyard on the Soda Creek Reserve.

This exhibition would not have been possible if not for the belief, support of dedication of Robert Keziere, Karen Love, Ann Pollock and Jean Spears who all saw the incredible value of documenting the amazing life of Mary Augusta Tappage Evans. Thank you all…

Robert Keziere was born in Vancouver in 1937 he’s also well known for the series of documentary images taken during a 1971 Greenpeace expedition which were published in Robert Hunter’s The Greenpeace to Amchitka: An Environmental Odyssey. His exhibitions and publications Requiem at the Charles Scott Gallery in 1985 and On Reason at the Contemporary Art Gallery in 1989 solidified his reputation of an artist of great sensitivity and importance. Robert is still highly sought after as a freelance photographer and when he is not travelling far and wide he continues to call Vancouver his home.