Claude Tidd, “Camera Fiend”
Photography was much more than a hobby for Claude Tidd. It was a calling.
As some of the diary entries from his winters in Old Crow reveal, he
became depressed and frustrated when he couldnt pursue his art. Tidd
brought impressive professionalism to his avocation as a photographer.
Though not formally trained as a visual artist or photo-journalist,
he consciously strove to perfect both his medium and the message. He
was fiercely self-disciplined. When he wrote about this labour of love,
he assumed an informal, even jocular tone, referring to himself as a camera
fiend, but that was somewhat disingenuous. He was very serious about
his work and couldnt be satisfied with less than the best.
Claude kept meticulous albums, which are works of art in themselves.
Yukon Archives: #8123
Weather posed many challenges. Merely to set up a tripod in three
feet of snow and get it perfectly level is in itself quite a feat, he
wrote in a 3,000-word article, Winter Photography in the Yukon . Then
to fiddle around with the focusing screw, adjust the diaphragm, set
the timing device, remove focusing screen and insert a plate-holder,
fix a filter and lens hood; all this even at a modest twenty-five below
zero is no picnic, especially as it must be done bare-handed. (77/19
f. 2, MSS 061 “Winter Photography in the Yukon”)
The intrepid photographer sets his camera up in the snow. Note the pipe, which seems to be present in more photos of Claude than not!
Yukon Archives: #8526
Of course, back in the pre-digital days, the cumbersome technology
on which a photographer relied could create problems for anyone who lived
and worked in the wilderness. Far from any hardware store, let alone
a camera store, Claude was forced into the role of innovator and inventor,
whether for a power source and lens for his enlarger, or for dust filters
for developing. He met such challenges handily, then reverted to his
modest self: “And although I havent
succeeded in turning out any Salon-quality prints yet, some of my results
have given us and our friends much pleasure, while the odd one has even
pleased an editor occasionally.”
There is an element of salvage
anthropology to Tidds work. It is a good point for debate: just
how aware was Tidd that he was saving views of a passing age for posterity?
His sojourn in the North lasted from early in the First World War --
when planes were a novelty and radio technology fairly experimental
-- through the Second World War. By then air mail had become commonplace
and every modest home could afford a radio. Tidd was surely aware that
an old way of life, for both aboriginal people and non-Natives, was
being changed forever in the North. He must have realized that all the
progress had a flipside; as the Yukon became more habitable, thanks
to technology, many more people would flood in, bringing new priorities
and new temptations. Consider Tidds images of children enjoying oranges,
back before manufactured cookies, candies and sugared cereal became
commonplace in northern communities.
Claude creating a self-portrait in his Mayo kitchen. His hand is near the floor, pushing a button to take the photo.
Yukon Archives: #91/112 #454, PHO 606