By Wendy Elliott
Halifax Cinemas in 1984, an exhibit of photographs by Fraser Ross, is showing in Jack's Gallery at the Al Whittle Theatre until Nov. 3.
A photographer and graphic designer, Ross took extensive photos at the Cove, Casino, Paramount and Hyland Theatres in 1984, when they were fully functioning.
His richly-coloured images depict the now abandoned Halifax cinema interiors. He said the old theatres, which are public venues and are unoccupied, are intriguing.
“The imagery is quite formal, static even, but the energy of the place can be felt in the shots,” he said. “Primarily because we only experience these places occupied.”
Almost 30 years ago, Ross said he had no sense of the future of these buildings.
“They were still an intrinsic part of social life in Halifax, reasonably well attended, with a strong enough community to support a repertory film theatre as well (Wormwoods Dog & Monkey).”
Built in 1948, the Cove is still standing and is now home to a TV network. The Casino, which opened in 1898, once held an audience of 1,000. It has since been torn down. The Hyland, meanwhile, burned down because of a smoldering popcorn machine.
Ross graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1983, where he studied both photography and communication design.
“I've been making images off-and-on ever since,” he said.
As a designer, Ross said, the creative process is sometimes spontaneous, but more often requires considerable brain-time.
“Photography may require more thinking at the start, but the actual action is completely effortless, to me,” he said. “It's a viewpoint that's quite removed from the norm, a quiet middle space, quite meditative. When I'm shooting, it's like exercising, a very focused activity that doesn't allow anything else to intrude.”
The original artistic reason for shooting these images is still relevant, Ross believes, “but they've also become historic documents, evidence of another time. Funny how the meaning of images will change over time.”
He has also taken documentary photos at the old NSCC Bell Road campus and two Halifax high schools before they closed. Ross says there’s something about framing an image of “the man-made, however, prosaic, and giving it a bit of sparkle by looking at it with fresh eyes.”