Leslie Hossack, “Bunker, Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer,” 2015
pigment ink on cotton fibre, 31.5” x 47.5”
Leslie Hossack instantly knew she had to photograph the German bunker, tilted and sinking, on Juno Beach along France’s Normandy Coast. “It was a visceral experience,” says Hossack, who divides her time between Vancouver and Ottawa.
The decaying bunker is a symbol of the heroism of Canadian solders in defeating Germany along this eight-kilometre-long beach during the Second World War. It’s also a manifestation of nature’s power to erase an infamous past.
Hossack had come to Juno Beach intending to capture a series of bunkers at dawn on the June 6, 2015 anniversary of D-Day. She wanted to see what Canadian soldiers saw as they landed on the beach at first light 71 years earlier.
She actually shot the tilted German bunker a day before the anniversary. The next morning she was all but paralyzed with emotion as the sun rose at 6:25 a.m. “I couldn’t even lift my camera because I was so overwhelmed,” she says.
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Leslie Hossack, “7:43:27 am, June 6th, Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer,” 2015
pigment ink on cotton fibre, 28” x 42”
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Leslie Hossack, “Howard Bruce Boddy, Telegram, 16 March 1945, Ottawa,” 2016
pigment ink on paper, 8.5” x 10” (CWM 20030267-016_1, George Metcalf Archival Collection, Canadian War Museum, Ottawa)
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Leslie Hossack, “Here Rests In Honored Glory A Comrade In Arms, Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer,” 2015
pigment ink on cotton fibre, 21” x 15.5”
Instead of focusing on the bunkers, she photographed the sand where Canadians had fought, and where 359 died on D-Day. “This very sand was in their equipment, their hair, their eyes, their wounds, their souls.” The next day, she returned to the bunkers.
The result is H-Hour, on view at Calgary’s Founders’ Gallery until March 5. Along with the bunkers and sand, Hossack is showing photographs of tombstones from both Allied and German soldiers, as well as telegrams informing families of soldiers’ deaths.
Hossack is best known for photographs of architecture with a troubled backstory. “For me, history is recorded in buildings,” she says. She loves to manipulate her architectural photos, eliminating the “clutter” of contemporary life and scars of the past. The real becomes surreal. The too-perfect buildings almost glow and shimmer, simultaneously exuding beauty and menace.
Leslie Hossack, “Large Barn, Site of Tashme Internment Camp, Sunshine Valley, British Columbia,” 2013
pigment ink on gloss Baryta, 12.8” x 19.3”
That’s certainly the case with a second simultaneous exhibition at the Founders’ Gallery. The heart of Registered: The Japanese-Canadian Experience is Hossack’s recent series of photographs of buildings key to the story of the internment of 22,000 Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War. The images include an internment camp barn, Vancouver City Hall, and the Livestock Building in Vancouver’s Hastings Park. About 3,100 women and children were housed there in animal stalls that still stunk of manure as they awaited transfer eastward to internment camps.
Registered also includes photographs of racist newspaper clippings from the 1940s about the Japanese-Canadian “menace” and registration cards issued to internees. The underlying horror of the exhibition makes it another visceral experience.