Hand Tinted Large Silver print by Canadian Photographer Alfred Blyth
Hand tinted mammoth silver print by Canadian photographer Alfred Blyth.
In a career that spanned more than 60 years, Alfred Blyth captured the growth of a city and its people through his camera lens and was one of Alberta's most acclaimed photographers. He built a reputation by taking images that not only told history - they made it.
Blyth was born in Ayrshire, Scotland in 1901, the youngest of a family of eight - five brothers and three sisters. He came to Edmonton in 1913 with his widowed mother and brothers and sisters. The family moved into a house at 9716 92nd Street - a structure he was to call home for virtually the rest of his life.
The Blyths had been in Edmonton barely a year when their new home was inundated by the great flood of 1915. "The water got within six inches of the ground floor," Alfred recalled. "That was because we had a coal chute in those days and the water poured in there. The house was solid, though, and we came through all right." Blyth began his photographic apprenticeship with Percy C. Byron and Gustave May's Byron-May Company in 1916 and the next year, when their little firm was bought out by McDermid Studios, Blyth then went to work for them. In those days, the company was headquartered in premises at 101st Street north of 102nd A Avenue - right where Edmonton Centre resides today. One day in 1916, he set up his camera in front of his house and triggered the shutter, triggering a tradition of photos taken from that very spot that continued until 1972. These panoramic images of Edmonton's skyline offer a fascinating visual record of the dramatic changes as the city grew and prospered. Blyth was to stay with McDermid for a dozen years, honing his skills surrounded by like-minded craftsmen before going into business for himself in 1928. That was the beginning of Alfred Blyth Studio in that little Cloverdale house - an enterprise that, over the next 40 years, was to became an Edmonton institution. Information from the City of Edmonton Archives provides ample evidence that Blyth quickly gained renown for the quality of his work in commercial and news photography and early Fox Movietone newsreels. By the 1930s, he was known as Edmonton's leading photographer. In 1939, he was official photographer for the royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. He was given the same honour for the visit of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip and again when they returned in 1959 ad Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh. He filmed the opening of the legislature at the beginning of the Aberhart administration - the first time such filming was allowed. But, as an article in a 1974 issue of St. John's Edmonton Report remarked, it was images he captured for his own pleasure that eventually won him the highest international acclaim of his illustrious career. At one Amsterdam competition in 1953, his photograph of the serenity of Maligne Lake in early morning entitled Break O'Day won the gold medal, beating out 1,500 other entries. Such salon photography earned him high praise on the international stage and, in a rating of a thousand of the world's leading photographers, Blyth placed 58th. His photographic collection of 25,000 images was acquired by the Provincial Archives in 1972 and formed the backbone for an extensive exhibit at the Provincial Museum covering 1928 to his retirement in 1970. In an exhibit publication, heritage historian E.J. Holmgren wrote that Blyth's imagination and keen sense of observance set him apart. "There sometimes appears a photographer who displays true creativity, going beyond the bounds of run-of-the-mill methods breaking new ground with photographs that stand out above all others. Such a man was Alfred Blyth." In his later years, Blyth admitted that he, like almost all photographers, was a bit of an eccentric. "There's something very different about those who spend a lot of time alone with a camera," he told me when I spoke with him in the late 1970s. "Lone wolves, you might say. Happy, but alone." And he gave me the best photographic advice I've ever had: "Wait for the light. A photograph is nothing without light and, if you wait for the right interplay of shadow and light, you will be rewarded." When he was honoured with an Edmonton Historical Board Recognition Award in 1978, he was frail but his eyes still sparkled with the memories of all he had seen and captured in a lifetime through the lens. He died August 13th, 1980 at the age of 79. But his collection and those he immortalized on film live on, touching and enriching our lives with their beauty and inspiring us with what one person dedicated to his craft can help others to see, appreciate and know.
UNFRAMED: HEIGHT: 20 in | WIDTH: 26 in
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