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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Emmanuel Buenviaje’s Mount Pleasant Vernacular

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Sometimes we need to see our city in a new way to realize what has always been there. That is the case with graphic designer and photographer Emmanuel Buenviaje. Buenviaje is an Emily Carr graduate and an experienced graphic designer with a passion for typography who first picked up a camera in 2006.

Although he is a Vancouver native, photography gave Buenviaje a different perspective on our city. It forced him to slow down and view the city in a different way. Buenviaje places great importance on exploring a neighbourhood by foot, allowing him to witness details not seen on the saddle of a bike, the seat of a bus, or behind the wheel of a car.

Viewing his neighbourhood from behind a camera gave Buenviaje a new perspective on Vancouver. He had long been fascinated by the complexity of Vancouver’s urban landscape, but photographing it opened his eyes to the layers, texture and history all around him that he overlooked before. Buenviaje’s photo walks allowed him to see the city’s various neighbourhoods in what he feels is a more genuine way. According to Buenviaje, “There is a more authentic Vancouver. While it may be grittier, it isn’t ugly—rather it is real.”

Those of you familiar with Fred Herzog’s photography will sense a familiar aesthetic in Buenviaje’s urban photography. This isn’t by accident. Buenviaje counts Herzog as a significant influence on his work. Herzog’s images of Vancouver was the city that Buenviaje remembered growing up in the 1980’s.

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Buenviaje.

He prefers Vancouver’s older neighbourhoods—particularly Stathcona, Chinatown and Mount Pleasant. Through photographing these communities, Buenviaje realized that “there remains a quaintness in many of our neighbourhoods that continues to define us, when we take the time to look for it.” He is attracted to the city’s historic neighbourhoods—along with the industrial areas remaining along Marine Drive—because they “allow us to remember our past, to see both where we’ve been; but also notice the changes that hint at our future.”

Buenviaje’s current show, Mount Pleasant Vernacular—part of the collaborative “5” exhibit at Mount Pleasant’s Rize House, plays off the duality. He wanted to push the boundaries of photo documentary through exploring the physical language of his evolving neighbourhood. While his other photographs feature candid shots of people carrying out their daily lives in the city, this series draws on his long-term interest in architecture. He feels that architecture is part of the unique ‘language’ of each neighbourhood, and wanted to capture it graphically.

The show exhibits Buenviaje’s talents as both a photographer and a graphic designer. Each of the ten images on display are a composition of two photographs superimposed on one another. While his photographs capture a rarely seen side of the city, his graphic design background grounds the photographs on sound design principles that bring together typography, colour, composition, and a touch of playfulness. This novel technique does a great jobs capturing Mount Pleasant’s unique character. Buenviaje’s images acknowledge the neighbourhood’s industrial past while looking toward its undefined future.

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Buenviaje.

Buenviaje is one of five artist featured at 5, the final show at Rize House’s pop-up gallery at 196 Kingsway. It runs from January 16 to February 11, 2012. In addition to Emmanuel, 5 also features Linda SuffidyThibault SendraSalvador Nunez, and Raven Sto.

Rize House is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11:00am to 5:00pm. There will be a public opening reception this Thursday evening, January 26th, from 6 to 9 pm with music provided by Micheal Averill and Dottie Locks.


Yuri Artibise is a public policy analyst and social media specialist. Through his Yurbanism brand, he explores the ‘Y’ of urbanism by sharing ways to make our cities more livable, community-oriented places one block at a time. He currently works with PlaceSpeak, an online location-based community consultation platform.