The Giant Hand & Loaf atop the McGavins Bakery, Vancouver, Canada, 1973.
GIANT THINGS 1973 - 1980
I came to Canada, the land of my ancestors, in 1970, a 23 year old refugee from the violence of America, an uninvited guest on the unceded ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples. I arrived as an architectural photographer with a 4x5 view camera and very little else. I fortunately found my first work as a photo technician for the Vancouver Public Library Historical Photograph Section where I was immersed in the visual history of my new home.
Inspired by historical imagery, I could walk around Vancouver and see the present through a window to the past. Using borrowed cameras I began taking pictures of uniquely Vancouver sites. I was especially drawn to the city's massive advertising signs – the huge word "Pontiac" on the Lee Building and a curious billboard at Lost Lagoon with its packet of Players cigarettes painted over by an anti smoking campaign slogan "Smoke Screen." In the summer of 1972 I got myself a Nikon F2 35mm camera and my real adventure in photography commenced.
One of my favorite outdoor advertisements was the Giant Hand and Loaf on top of McGavins Bakery. My buddy Fred Douglas said he thought it might be cool to live in the loaf with a great view of the city. I was intending to photograph it but then a wind storm blew its cuff off and one of its fingers rotted away, it seemed like it was now or never for a picture. In February, 1973, on a cold overcast morning I took my first Giant Thing photograph of the Hand & Loaf – technically, that was the birth of Gianthropology even though I hadn't yet invented the word. By the end of 1973 the Hand & Loaf was demolished and my photograph became the evidence to its past existence.
With the realization that other antiquated Giant Things were disappearing from the landscape, I spent the next seven years photographing them along the Pacific cordillera from Vancouver, Canada, to Ensenada, Baja California, mostly on trips to the Old Country when visiting my family in southern California. Then in the mid 1970's I left my archives job to research the life of Mattie Gunterman, the early 20th century Kootenay photographer. In 1978 while investigating her childhood in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I photographed a surprising trove of Giant Things which inspired my first narrative series A Tourist’s Guide To The Giant Things And Mattie Gunterman Historical Sites Of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
By the end of the 1970’s I had amassed enough photography to print a Giant Things portfolio and in 1980 came the distillation of all my work with two exhibitions of Giant Things in Vancouver and Ottawa, as well as the release of a small post card portfolio 12 Little Giants. This is when I began using the term Gianthropology and calling myself a Gianthropologist. The decision was well considered. I could have chosen Giantology but wanted to enfold human cultural expression, broadening my field of study beyond the crass mercantile abominations of roadside advertising. The portmanteau of giant and anthropology suited this purpose well, so Gianthropology it was.
The Giant Six Pack, La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1978.
© 2021 Henri Robideau