East Side Story


Late last summer, Christopher Grabowski set up a portrait studio in a disused bank building on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which is Canada’s poorest urban neighbourhood, and let it be known on the street that he wished to take portraits of people who lived there.


The result was Facing the Eastside, an exhibition of Grabowski’s photographs which opened in November at the Roundhouse Community Centre near the upscale condo developments in the centre of the city. On opening night people from the Downtown Eastside were bussed to the Roundhouse, where they participated in the celebrations and were able to observe images of themselves on the gallery walls. It was a moving experience for many, even tearful for some who were briefly overcome when confronted by images of themselves rendered in the magnificent tones of fine-art black and white prints.

All of the portraits in Facing the Eastside are anonymous: they share a common plain backdrop and none of the subjects are identified in any way. This was the agreement Grabowski made with his sitters, who were willing to lend their appearances to the project but not their identities; and it was this arrangement that allowed Grabowski to present his subjects in a visual environment that belongs more to the history of photography than it does to the history of the neighbourhood. These portraits are an attempt to give back something to the people we see in them, to offer them a straightforward likeness and not a sociological statement. At the same time these portraits remind us of how much we read into faces, how much physiognomy is part of the way we read the world.

Christopher Grabowski’s photographs have been exhibited in Toronto, Hannover and Warsaw, and published in numerous Canadian, German and Polish magazines. Facing the Eastside was accompanied by the poetry of Bud Osborn and Shawn Milnar.

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Christopher Grabowski’s award-winning photographs have been exhibited in Canada, Poland, the Netherlands and Germany. His photos and articles have been published in many periodicals and anthologies in North America and Europe. Visit him at



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