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BC VOICES: Ronald Greene

BC VOICES: Ronald Greene

April 14, 2016

Carlo Gentile, Gold Rush Photographer

by  Ronald Greene

My journey started over twenty years ago when I was offered a photograph album that appeared to be the work of only one photographer, Carlo Gentile. This is to say that all the photographs that were signed, were signed by him and all of the photographs were of a similar style and from a narrow period of time. Part of the problem was that not many were signed. It was only afterwards that the significance of the album became apparent. I learned of Cesare Marino’s biography of Gentile,[1] and of the Arthur Nonus Birch Album of Gentile’s photographs in the National Archives in Ottawa, and made a point of viewing it on a trip to Ottawa at which time I compared the contents of the two albums.
I decided it would be a good project to publish my album. After mulling it over for a number of years — like good wine the idea improved with age — I had the album unbound so that it could be copied and so that some of the photographs could be restored. I also took the entire album to Ottawa to conservator Greg Hill, and he selected seven or eight that he felt needed work. The photo in worst condition was that of the steamer Lillooet at Yale, which I used in my website, www.greenefrogge.ca Most of the other photos had only one tear.

While I was looking through the Engle album held by the BC Archives, Don Bourdon suggested that I extend the scope of my project to all of Gentile’s work in British Columbia. This I did.
I then discussed the project with a Victoria printer, Mark Flynn, who has done work for me for over forty years. He thought he could produce the high quality work that I felt was necessary and gave me samples from images that I gave him to experiment with. There were some clear advantages to working with someone local who I knew and trusted. The result was a book that we both could be proud of. We have had many excellent comments since its publication in 2015.

One delight is that the book has brought a Gentile stereoview to our attention. While Gentile advertised stereoviews, we knew of only one that survived, and this one was stuck into an album, so that the back was not visible. The owner of the newfound stereoview has provided us with images of the front and back of the image. However, the stereoview image itself is not new; except for size, the right hand side appears to be identical to DP 1333-3, the number used in the book, showing six Chiefs and the interpreter in front of Government House in New Westminster (see above).

Of the seven men in this photograph, the identity of only one is known: Tsil-Husalst, the handsome fellow with the fur cap and leather strips on his tunic. He was the Xaxlip or Fountain chief, sometimes referred to as the Lillooet chief. If any viewers of this blog know the names of the other men in this photograph, the editors of BC Studies advise me that they will offer a free electronic subscription to the journal for one year to the first person(s) who can name at least three of the other six men. Competitors can enter their answers in the “Comments” section


[1] Cesare Marino, The Remarkable Carlo Gentile: Pioneer Italian Photographer of the American Frontier (Nevada City, CA: Carl Mautz, 1998)