Author Tags: Downtown Eastside, Photography

Gabor Gasztonyi has had exhibitions across Canada, including Vancouver, Montreal, and the Arta Gallery in Toronto in 2008. His awards include The Professional Photogaphers of BC Nikon Prize, Society of Canadian Artists Award of Excellence, runner-up Magnum Scotia Bank Scholarship, and a Canadian nomination for the International Black & White Spider Awards in 2008. He operates a photographic studio and Art Gallery in New Westminster, BC.

A Room in the City (Anvil $40)

Willie Pickton was able to procure most of his victims from the Downtown Eastside with relative ease. The neighbourhood is notorious as North America’s most concentrated area of injection drug use. Its existence belies the boast that Vancouver is one of the world’s most liveable cities and it renders obscene the claim that British Columbia is “the best place on earth.”

But as evidenced by the grim but alluring photos of Gabor Gasztonyi in A Room in the City (Anvil $40), the DTES can also be a place of triumph over despair. Fellini-esque yet oddly endearing, Gasztonyi’s photos reveal the human carnival of the emaciated, walking wounded—down and out but reflexively animated—in the way that Czech photographer Josef Koudelka was able to capture the spirit of Roma (formerly known as gypsies).

We get to know these people; they look us straight in the eyes.

With its subterranean homesick hues of black and white, A Room in the City is an even more disturbing photo collection than Lincoln Clarkes’ controversial Heroines (Anvil 2002) which is mainly comprised of portraits of women in the streets.

Gasztonyi has been able to infiltrate hotels such as the Cobalt, the Balmoral, the Regent, The Lux and the Sunrise, where he has gained the trust of his subjects in the relative safety of their rooms, and provided interior views of stark intimacy.

“Led by our photographer guide,” writes Gabor Maté in his foreword, “we enter this dark realm, like some modern Dante, to learn about ourselves….

“We can examine compassionately the sources of our own despair or disdain, our urges to cover our eyes or to look deeper, of our own identification with or rejection of the divine beings whose ravaged images Gabor Gasztonyi’s unblinking eyes have sought out for us….
“If we look at Gabor’s pictures with open eyes, hearts and minds, we will find ourselves. The Downtown Eastside is us.”


[BCBW 2010]