Barry’s Bay resident musician and ‘History Buff’ Ken Ramsden enjoyed seeing the Harry Oakman bird’s eye view of Barry’s Bay last month in The Current. He sent this sister photo – the aerial photo postcard of Wilno, also dating from about 1964.
Ramsden said, “Being that I grew up in Peterborough I knew Harry Oakman…. When Washboard Hank and I travelled the province in the ’70s as young musicians, we of course hit all the beer stores, and were happy to see all those large Harry Oakman prints featured in each one.”
He continued, “I think that [people may] recall that Anya Blake [Gansterer] and I co-curated a Harry Oakman show at the Railway Station in Barry’s Bay. The ‘Harry Oakman and the World From Above’ exhibition also featured contemporary visual artwork inspired by the concept of looking down at our world from above … by other artists. Anya explained to me that because of the ability of artists to view the earth from space through Google Earth, some chose to use this as creative inspiration. These other works fit nicely with the Oakman work.”
Ramsden offered some stories about Oakman’s work.
Ramsden said he knew that Harry shot a lot in this area…. “The camp style resorts were a favorite. He would arrive in his float plane, pull up to the dock & show the interested visitors his wares, then flog a bunch of pictures to the camp owners for resale. A real formula for success since most campers wanted one as a souvenir. If not up for a print,they would likely buy postcards.”
He explained that the Oakman collection is housed at Mapart in Oshawa. The owner Peter was a friend of Harry’s…. “I made several visits to Mapart when putting together the show here. The Mapart halls are a gallery of large Oakman prints…. The collection had never been organized prior to Mapart’s acquisition of the negatives and prints and so it was a full time job for the archivist who also made prints from negatives.”
Aerial photography from a float plane
I asked Ramsden to explain Harry’s method in those days before drone cameras were invented. “How would Harry have taken pictures from the plane if one hand was holding the camera and his other hand was holding on to the airplane? It seems that he would need yet another hand to hit the shutter button.”
Ramsden explained that he was able to purchase a photo depicting three of of Harry’s cameras: “red, black and blue … and they are battered – with a handle on each side, metal bodies and what look to be metal rings surrounding the lenses…perhaps to both balance and protect the lens? On these cameras Harry has written what appear to be lens stop and other numbers … perhaps to be larger/more visible than any numbers that might have been originally installed on these battered workhorses he used for cameras for shots around the globe. Honestly they look like he prepared them to survive being accidentally dropped from great heights – and they may have been too!
“These [cameras] all had handles added to their side: Harry would hang out of the float plane door in order to take his shots. He’d grip the camera handle with his free hand while holding onto the frame of the plane with the other.”
Sixty million postcards later
Ramsden finished his tales about Oakman by sharing a video that shows Washboard Hank interviewing Harry Oakman at the Oakman show in Artspace in Peterborough. A minute into [the video] Harry mentions that he has sold over 60 million postcards!
“Hank curated the show … and retrieved many of the larger photos from a barn near the airport, which is near both of our family farms in Cavan,” explained Ramsden. “Now people working at the airport don’t even know who he was.”
Heritage Photo: If you are interested in having a picture and story featured in The Madawaska Valley Current, please submit the information to Bob Corrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org (subject Heritage Photos) or mail your photo to Bob c/o The Current at PO Box 1097, Barry’s Bay K0J 1B0 (originals will be returned).