The Harmony Drugstore in Banff still exhibits the wooden-framed enlargements of Byron Harmon’s photographs which were my introduction to the mountain world beyond the narrow Bow Valley. Those photographs, many of which are reproduced in this book, contained mysteries of dog sleds, pack trains, hunters, explorers, and climbers; they were the openings to romance, a world both threatening and inviting. We built stories around them then. About the image of the Climbers on Mount Resplendent, for example, we thought: ‘Because the clouds were all around them, they kept on climbing even after the ridge was gone. When the clouds went up again, there was no sign of them.’ (Were we remembering Odell’s last sighting of Mallory and Irvine disappearing into the clouds near the summit of Everest in 1924? It was a familiar story in our household. And it may be what misled us into believing the climbers were ascending.) I can look at the same photograph now and analyse the composition of lines which invariably draws our eyes up and into the vanishing point in the peak-concealing clouds, but the temptation to read a fiction in the image persists. Harmon was a storyteller, but he placed the story foremost, telling it with such a sense of inevitability we forget a narrator is behind the mask of stylelessness. Certainly the photographs are rich in style; but rather than imposing the style, Harmon derives it from the particularities of scene, actors, or action. Looking at the photographs, we are comfortable in works where a sense of form enhances subject or scene, where perception of textures and the play of light upon them make the lack of colour irrelevant. If Harmon’s photographs have an easy familiarity, it’s probably because for years the standard views of the Rockies and Selkirks were his, broadcast to the world by postcard, viewbook, and hand-tinted framing prints. His informed eye has largely shaped our perceptions of Canada’s western mountains. Landscape photography was central to his development as a mountain photographer.
81. Mount Bryce and the Columbia Icefield, from Mount Castleguard, Columbia Icefield Expedition, 1924