Jennifer Van Evra

Edges of East Van

Commercial Drive has always been an area in flux. It has been home to immigrants from Italy, China, Brazil, Africa and every other corner of the globe; it has played host to countless political and social movements, from 1960s counterculture to 21st century environmental activists; it has supported businesses from early 1900s logging to trendy modern cafés; and it has accepted people of all stripes and lifestyles. 

At times the shifts are so subtle, they get lost in the day-to-day, but Tamar Haytayan’s Edges of East Van perfectly captures the area’s character — its quirkiness, its whimsy, its honesty, its darkness, and its constant change — through its fringes and its flux.

A real estate sign in front of a weathered bungalow gets a familiar spray-painted commentary. A religious figure is housed in a tiny outdoor cedar shed. Window coverings keep eyes out, but also reveal hints about those on the other side. A woman looks in a garbage bin as a spray-painted Statue of Liberty watches on. A sign on a fence warns of a crazy cat.

The images are mostly absent of people, but echoes of their stories remain.

As broken-down bungalows and Vancouver Specials make way for slick condos and duplexes, East Van’s quirkiness is getting pushed further to the margins. One day there likely won’t be rusting trucks in the alley, or polka-dotted stucco homes, or graffiti-coated garages, or pink flamingos in a garden, or warnings of crazy cats. Buildings disappear and locals ask, “What was here before?”

Haytayan’s striking photographs catalogue those shifts, both large and minuscule, and entice all of us to take note.

— Jennifer Van Evra