Photographer Tim Rogers – Rescuing the work of Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer

Tim Rogers Project 1

Glass slide taken by Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer

Can you provide some background/basic biography about your self?

Born in Hamilton, ON 1942.  Moved to Montreal, QC in 1955, later attending Acadia University in Wolfville, NS (BA in Math, 1965).  Earned a PhD (Psychology) in 1970 (University of Western Ontario).  Took a job at the University of Calgary where I researched and taught for 37 years—mostly in Psychology but also in the Department of Music and Canadian Studies.  During that time I was practicing musician and actively involved in researching the history of science as well as Canadian folklore.  Moved permanently to Victoria, BC in 2015, after having published my first novel in 2014.

Where/when did you first become interested in photography?

I got my first SLR (a Pentax Spotmatic) in 1970 just after arriving in Calgary where, with the help of some friends, I learned how to develop film and print making.  I always had interest in photography, but finding time was always a problem, what with trying to keep two careers going (professor and musician) as well as the demands of a family with two children.  It wasn’t until I’d made the decision to retire, circa 2005, that I began to rekindle my photographic activity and accumulate digital equipment.

Who were your first teachers/mentors in photography?

I really started on my own, with a few pointers from colleagues in the dark room at the U of C, which probably explains why my activity waned as other demands pushed in to fill my time.  It wasn’t until I came to Victoria and began to hang out with several dedicated amateurs (Rick Nordin, Richard How, Will Hintz) that I began to get serious again.  More recently, Chris Miles has become both a friend and a gentle mentor.

What have been your areas of interest in photography? Do you have any projects/themes you’ve worked on over the years?

My main focus has been landscape/nature—from the get-go.  I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable asking folks to pose for photos and never really made an effort to photograph people.

You are currently working on a unique photography project that involves another photographer. Can you describe this project?

Last fall (2017) my brother-in-law, who lives in Huntsville, ON, gave me a box that contained over 100 3” x 3” glass slides.  The images on these slides were taken circa 1914 by Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer (1870-1942).  They were of local residents in and around Huntsville, ON as well as documentary images of houses and barns etc. standing at the time.  Tyrer had come to Huntsville in 1908 to minister to the spiritual and material needs of area residents, many of whom lived in deep poverty (the government had enticed people to come to the area and given them land, failing to mention that it was very poor for farming—hence many fell into poverty).  As part of his “mission” Tyrer built a house on the shores of Lake Vernon which became a haven for many of the local residents.

As part of his community development work, Tyrer took a series of photographs that documented the lives of his congregation.  There is no historical evidence to indicate where Tyrer gained his photographic experience or equipment, but the surviving images indicate that he had a good eye and worked well with the existing technology.  Many of the images show relaxed, informal poses indicating that he worked well with his photographic subjects.  Historical sources indicate that he put on a slide show in 1915 in the local township hall.  It seems likely that the slides I obtained were used for this show.

Tim Rogers Project 3

Tim Rogers with an enlargement of an Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer photograph 

How did you come to have this body of work?

These slides were left in the mission house when Tyrer left for Toronto in 1927.   In 1965 the mission house was resold to Dr. R.F. Keevil, my father-in-law.  A local historian, Gail (Hines) Stupka had taken possession of the slides before Dr. Keevil arrived.  She photographed them and then stored them away in her archive.  In 2017 she mentioned these slides to my brother-in-law, Rick Keevil.  He retrieved them and passed them on to me.

What have you done with this material so far (i.e. scanning/prints)?

Rick Nordin and I made rough scans of the slides (300 dpi) in September of 2017.  I then began to experiment with them and found that, even at 300 dpi, they printed quite nicely—enlargements of many on 13” x 19” paper were acceptable and showcased Tyrer’s talents quite well.  In the fall of that year I put together a “show” of these prints for a photography class I was taking at UVic.

Later that fall I prepared a calendar featuring 12 of these images.  I sent copies to everyone in Ontario who had helped out.  The response was very favourable, with multiple requests for a repeat for 2019.

Early this year (2018) I put the entire collection together as a draft Blurb book.  I took this east with me on a recent trip and, again, the local folks were very enthusiastic about the outcome with many requests for copies.

Tim Rogers Project 5

Tim Rogers’ Blurb book of the photographs of Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer

What sort of further research have you done and what have you discovered about this photographer?

I’ve done quite a bit of research on Tyrer, having read pretty well everything he wrote (he was a prolific author) and having done a first pass of the available historical sources.  I found Tyrer was quite the rebel—continually getting into trouble with his bishop bosses.  Indeed, he was defrocked in the States, prior to coming to Huntsville.  His disagreements were always well-thought-out and vigorously defended (which no doubt contributed to the vehemence with which he was attacked on occasion).  He raised funds to build his mission house from rich folks in Toronto (e.g., Jack Eaton who then ran Eatons department store, J. H. Gundy of Wood Gundy, the president of the Bank of Commerce and more).

His mission was, by all accounts, a success with comments about the hall on his property being full to the rafters with donated clothes that he and his wife passed out the needy.  It was described as a “haven in a rough place.”   He ministered to his flock and became what would today be called a social activist.  Among other things, he was instrumental in bringing a public hospital to Huntsville.  Tyrer had a reputation for being kind and generous.

In 1927 he decided to leave.  In part this was because his wife was in failing health and his son of age to attend university.  More importantly, though, the reverend was frustrated by his lack of progress improving things for his flock.  He felt the main problem was that they were having too many children to be supported by the available resources.  This was not a popular position among the local men folk.  Again, the rebel in Tyrer comes out….  So he decided to go to Toronto and start a campaign to make birth control information available to everyone.  He spent the rest of his days working on this project that dovetailed nicely with the then-popular eugenics movement.

Tim Rogers Project 4

Tim Rogers with an enlargement of a Reverend Alfred henry Tyrer photograph.

What do you think about this photographer, his work and the area that he photographed in?

I’m impressed with Tyrer’s photographic talent.  In his images you can see an air of relaxation and informality that indicates that he worked well with people when he was taking their photos.  It’s likely that many of these folks were posing for the first time in their lives and yet he managed to avoid what might be thought of as the Victorian stiffness so evident in many portraits of the time.

He also worked hard to marry the people with their homes, in many cases, taking photos of people in front of their houses.  He was successful in documenting the context of many of these peoples’ lives.  From a 21st century perspective, these provide useful documentary information because many of these dwellings not longer exist.

A humorous aside is that, in preparation for the slide show, Tyrer spent considerable time “photoshopping”—changing the faces of various photos to be local folks.  For example, he put the head of a local tough onto a photo of minister by actually breaking slides and sticking the new head to the body.  This was a clear indication of his closeness to his flock and his understanding of how to put a show together.  Imagine that—he presaged cutting, pasting and layers…..

Overall, Tyrer’s photos open a window on the lives of these people.   The area is now called “cottage country” with the old homesteads having been divvied up into lots to build posh vacation homes for well-off Torontonians.  Having the historical resource of these photos gives voice to those who rarely get into history books—namely, the poor.

What are future your plans for this work?

A major mystery for me is the format of these photographs.  There was talk of there being negatives around, but it turns out that these were of the photographs that Stupka took of the slides.  The originals are nowhere to be found.  I’m guessing that the slides were contact prints from negatives.  This is because there were many duplicates image parts in the photoshopped slides, which could only be done if there were negs.  So a best guess was that his camera was 3” x 3” format.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to get any closer than this guess.

I’m in the throes of culling the local newspaper for information about Tyrer and his mission.  Happily the Huntsville Forester is online from 1885 .  I’m hoping that this will provide information about his social activism.  In addition, the paper may contain adverts for local photographic resources (a local historian tells me there was a photography store/studio in town during Tyrer’s time).  There’s a chance I might be able to piece together some of the missing information about where Tyrer got his equipment and supplies (and perhaps his expertise).

Once I’ve exhausted the historical resources, I intend to put together a 2nd version of the Blurb book.  This will include bigger prints of the images that survive enlarging (probably rescanned at higher resolution), as well as original size prints of the others.  I will include an historical narrative about the photographer and the region as well.  There is some talk of selling this book, but I’ll have to see how it turns out before thinking about that.

Tim Rogers Project 2

Box of slides from the Reverend Alfred Henry Tyrer

You can check out his site here at Tim Rogers.

 

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