Some have a passion for music, some for books. For Uno Langmann, however, it’s photography that compels him — particularly anything to do with “Beautiful British Columbia.”
An established antique collector and local businessman, 78-year-old Langmann and his wife Dianne donated their 18,000-piece collection of photographs to the UBC Library archives in mid March. Leaving his homeland of Denmark in 1955, Langmann originally sought to embrace the new culture of Canada, and collect himself a legacy. The collection spans most of B.C.’s history, with some images dating back as early as the 1850s.
“I start[ed] buying photographs [in] 1967, but the collection really only started to grow in the late ’70s,” Langmann said. “I found photos all over the world on my travels — Edinburgh, London, the States…. Everywhere I found photos of B.C. I would buy them.
The only setback for Langmann’s collection was the price of photographs. “I tried to choose only those important to the history of British Columbia and the Yukon,” he said. Not only interested in the beautiful landscapes of B.C., Langmann has also procured photographs of First Nations peoples, both from mainland Canada and Vancouver Island.
Langmann is keen to see students get involved in the collections. “This is why my photos are now donated to UBC. It is the only place that I think can handle them and make them available to students, so everyone can go in and look at the photos.”
And students have been involved since the first donation. Jade Guan, an archival studies masters student, worked on the collection in the summer of 2011 as a part of her studies. “I wanted to get some real archival experience,” said Guan. “The collection itself is very, very large, and initially we were still just figuring out what the photos were.”
Not only is the library’s commitment to the archives useful for UBC; it’s valuable to Langmann himself. “So many people throw away old photographs. They think, ‘Oh, it’s only a picture,’ and think nothing more of it. But we are the only curators of these photos of our own lifetimes, and it’s important to keep them in an important place where these important pictures will be looked after.”
“I think that the process of sorting through all the preserved photographs was interesting in so many ways,” said Guan. “We worked hard — eight hours a day for three days a week. But I only got to see part of the collection. There were so many photographs that the two months I worked on the archives was not nearly enough time to see everything.”
So what are the highlights of Langmann’s collection of photographs? According to the collector himself, the early views of the gold rush in the Cariboo, and the early towns of B.C. “Some of these are ghost towns now, and some are no more,” Langmann said. “It is interesting to visit these places which were once so prosperous.”
Thanks to Langmann’s donation, UBC students won’t need a car — or a time machine — to travel through B.C. history.