MP-0000.583.39 | Group of men playing cards, Calgary, AB, 1893-94

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Group of men playing cards, Calgary, AB, 1893-94
Robert Randolph Bruce
1893-1894, 19th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
12 x 20 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  informal (1120) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

These pictures of subjects associated with the everyday life of ordinary people--housework, rest, leisure time, play--are commonly called genre scenes. Scenes of card players, especially, seem to have provided inspiration for painters from the 17th century on. This theme was a favourite of artists, who, under cover of moral warnings, enjoyed showing the excesses attributed to the game: cheating, anger, drunkenness, and lechery. Thus it was that genre scenes subtly displayed all the deadly sins. The heavy drapery to the left, the gesture of the player about to lay down his card, the composition of the players in the foreground, their exposed hands, all reveal a carefully constructed image in keeping with tradition. Only the excesses are missing.

  • What

    The 4¼ by 6½ photographs seen lying on the table in the background are called cabinets. Many photographs of this format representing prominent personalities were mass-produced and distributed.

  • Where

    The arrangement of people and things, and the photographer's point of view, indicate a staged scene. These artifices are the hallmark of studio photographs.

  • When

    The construction, starting in 1891, of a railway line between Calgary and Edmonton brought about a major influx of investors, money and people. All kinds of facilities, including gaming rooms, were built.

  • Who

    The gesture of the player about to lay down his card seems too perfect to be spontaneous. The action has obviously been orchestrated by the photographer to produce an image in keeping with the tradition of the genre scene.