By Doreen Marion Gee

Image F-05091 courtesy of the BC Archives

With photo-editing wizardry in 2014,people can edit and change photos, put one photo over another and perform magic with photographic images. Just imagine the pure genius of a photographer who could do many of the same tricks way back in 1880, way before computers were invented and when the first cameras were clumsy machines with one millionth the capacity of present ones. That miracle worker was Hannah Maynard, a photographer in the first years of our fledgling city.

Hannah Maynard was a talented photographer and an independent free spirit. Born in Bude, Cornwall, England in 1834, she emigrated to Canada with her husband, Richard, and eventually landed on the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1862 along with her four children. Both husband and wife were photographers; Hannah opened one of Victoria's first portrait studios, Mrs. R. Maynard's Photographic Gallery on Johnson Street. Hannah's specialty was commercial portrait photography - but she took that skill to beautiful new levels of exquisite eye-candy.

The brilliant photographer worked magic in her art, using tricks and highly innovative techniques that dazzled the eyes and mind. According to the B.C. Archives, Hannah "experimented with every new photographic technique and developed a vision that was surreal and unique." Hannah's creative urges triumphed over the extremely limited capabilities of early cameras to capture figures in motion. In one photo, she actually creates the illusion of cycling through a town square just by sitting in a stationary position on a bicycle.

By 1880, Hannah Maynard was experimenting with "trick photography." She created multiple exposure portraits of family and friends. Using herself as the subject, she devised an intricate self-portrait with five different likenesses of herself. In her greeting card line, "Gems of British Columbia," Hannah created "cut-and-paste" photo montages of children - juxtaposing and superimposing up to thousands of images of children in one photo. In a technique called "photosculpture," Hannah transformed the subject to look like a sculpture on a pedestal.

Image F-02850 courtesy of the BC Archives

A true artistic pioneer, Hannah Maynard was an explorer of new dimensions of photography. She suspended her subjects within a frame by using the same person twice in a photo - either standing beside or opposite his/her double. A surrealist, she used mirrors to project an illusion of infinity. Hannah was a wizard in creating composite photos by superimposing two or more separate images. She created the illusion of herself being in more than one spot and position by pure trickery: by keeping the camera still on a tripod, by shooting herself in different spots and positions and finally by pasting together a composite scene with multiple Hannah figures.

Hannah Maynard was a fascinating historical figure. Back in the1800s, it was very unconventional for a woman to set up her own business. Like Emily Carr, Hannah was a woman far ahead of her time - a strong indomitable spirit. Within the cultural restraints of the time, it was unusual for a woman to excel on her own terms. With her independent remarkable intellect, Hannah deliberately challenged herself, placing herself in extreme settings and taking technical risks and solving them.

Hannah Maynard is the stuff of legends. As Leslie Robertson states (Uvic 2003), "Finally, it is Hannah's baroque artistry in her later work that attracts a great deal of attention. Her use of multiple exposures, powdering and other techniques have created very interesting and much talked about photographs." A comment on 'Ebay', where one of her photos is featured, says it all: "Notice in this print that there is a string of yarn that goes from the sitting Maynard at one end to the standing Maynard at the other end. Nice trick 118 years ago!"

During the course of human history, certain figures stand out as being blessed by the gods, having special gifts that few people possess. I believe that Hannah Maynard was one of those shining figures. She was an artistic genius who created magic with the art of photography that rivals our present sophisticated technology in 2014. And as International Women's Day weekend approaches, all women should honour this early brilliant female entrepreneur.

Sources:

Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865.
Maynard's Photographic Gallery, (Leslie Robertson, History 481, Uvic, 2003)
British Columbia Archives, Royal BC Museum