Photographer and writer Allan Sekula constructs narratives that define land and its political, social, and economic demarcations. He has described Geography Lesson: Canadian Notes as a conjectural comparison of imaginary and material geographies in the advanced capitalist world. In the book, which is based on a 1986 exhibition, he examines the iconography found in images of a landscape altered by mining, of bank architecture and its messages of cultural stability, and of the land as a source of economic wealth as it appears on Canadian money.
The seventy-six photographs form a narrative sequence augmented by captions and by the text, which is written in the subjective voice of a single investigator and storyteller. The photographs link two sites: the Inco mine and smelter in Sudbury and the Bank of Canada in Ottawa. The deep roots of their existence -- the creation and distribution of wealth -- are far more intimately connected than appearances would suggest. Canadian bills bear images of industry that draw resources from the land, contributing to the myth of national independence and self-determination. Issues of national identity and independence acquire a heightened poignancy in light of Sekula's underlying subject, the relationship between Canada's resource-based economy and U.S. capital.
In essays following Sekula's text, Gary Dufour discusses Canadian Notes as an examination of social and economic discourses that shape perceptions of the land, and John O'Brian discusses the dynamics of a resource-based economy, relations between Canada and the United States, and photography's ability to regulate appearances and therefore to control reality.Distributed for the Vancouver Art Gallery