George Hunter – Founding Father of CHPF
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1921, George Hunter was a Canadian documentary photographer who dedicated his life to capturing Canada’s industrial life, agricultural and rural landscape, cultural diversity, and rich heritage through breathtaking images.
During his lifetime, George had travelled across Canada more than 100 times, during which he photographed the vast geographical expanses of Canada, its bucolic frontiers, its industrial boom, the cultural diversity of its people, and the warmth of its families.
For him, the scope of a photographic opportunity was never to be compromised by any limiting factors. His artistic integrity treated every assignment equally, whether it was momentous or mundane.
Watch George Hunter’s story,
one of thirteen NFB Legacies 150 Stories
George began his career in photography as a sixteen-year-old when he was chosen to represent his high school, Norwood Collegiate at the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in London, England. Being a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, George carried his Voiglander Bessa camera to record the events of his trip. Upon his return, he presented his photographs to the Manitoba school teachers convention by means of a reflective magic lantern projector. He sold his first photograph for commercial use to a Winnipeg saddlery firm for a sum of $15. The photo, taken during his trip to England, depicted a horse looking over a fence as if in a barrel. It carried the company’s slogan “We clothe naked horses.”
In 1939 George got another chance to photograph King George and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Winnipeg. Royalties earned from these images afforded George his next camera –a Korrelle Reflex.
During World War II, George worked as a staff photographer for the Winnipeg Tribune where he learned the edict that ruled his entire life - “never come back without a picture, no matter what the circumstances."
In 1945 George was appointed to the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division where he served for five years. He was also appointed as Canada’s official photographer to The United Nations at Lake Success in New York in 1948.
His corporate photography took him to assignments that covered the mining, oil and gas, forestry/pulp/paper, and manufacturing industries.
George claimed that the two most interesting assignments of his entire career were covering Operations Muskox in February and March of 1946, and being aboard the Hudson’s Bay Company supply ship “Nascopie” later in the same year. Both these assignments required him to travel to and photograph the Canadian High Arctic.
In 1950 George became a full time freelance photographer, during which time he purchased his first airplane, a Piper Clipper, with 105 horsepower. He modified the door of the plane for it to be opened in flight.
George’s most notable work appeared in TIME Magazine’s September 20, 1954 issue. His work titled, “U.S. After Dark” was a 12-page feature article of American landscapes photographed at dusk. This rare, aerial photographic montage was the result of an assignment that 46 other TIME Magazine staff photographers declined to accept due to the challenge it posed. Luckily for the magazine’s art director, aerial photography was not only one of the aspects of George’s repertoire, he was also a man who never said never.
George’s technical prowess was way ahead of his times. These were the days when air travel was restricted, Google was yet tobe established, and photographers wouldn’t dare to think outside the box.
His most prestigious exhibition was sponsored by the Canadian Council and produced by the National Film Board in 1972. It was a summer-long presentation titled “People of Many Lands”featuring fifty 32” x 40” prints.
In 1976 George became one of the first photographers to be elected an academician of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In the same year, Carl Sagan of NASA selected George’s image of Toronto’s Pearson Airport Terminal 1 as the only Canadian photograph to be included in the time capsule of the Voyager II space craft for its journey to outer space. According to Google, as of May 2017, his picture is over 17 billion km. from earth.
Canada Post has used five of George’s images on their stamps and the Bank of Canada chose two for their $5, $10 bills in the 1972 – 1988 banknote series.
George’s illustrious career is punctuated with achievements and images that are a testament to his life as a prolific photographer. His vivid and panoramic images are seen hung in various art galleries, used by several Canadian, European, and Asian airlines, and grace numerous subway and airport hallways.
In 2001, the Canadian Association of Photographers and Illustrators presented George a lifetime achievement award, honouring his photographic saga.
Before his death in April 2013, George, with the help of Gary Landa helped create a new direction for CHPF. Today George is the first benefactor of CHPF. Excluding images taken during George’s tenure at the National Film Board, and some that George sold to other parties, CHPF owns his entire personal photographic legacy.