Arthur Erickson, circa 1970, Vancouver. (photo by Fred Schiffer; JMABC)
Thanks to the B.C. History Digitization Program and the Young Canada Works program, the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia (JMABC) now has more than 1,700 photographs from the Fred Schiffer Photography collection available for viewing on the Yosef Wosk Online Photo Library (flickr.com/photos/jewishmuseum). This is only the first of many phases in the processing and digitization of this collection. The JMABC is also in the beginning stages of developing both a physical and online exhibit of Schiffer’s work.
The Fred Schiffer Photography collection (circa 1940s-1999) contains approximately 80,000 photographs and four metres of textual records and artifacts. Most of the digitized material is from the Vancouver series (1958-1999), which documents family groups, weddings, news celebrities, judiciary, film, stage and music personalities, and many more. Portraits digitized include Vancouver citizens of all walks of life juxtaposed with prominent B.C. personalities (both Jewish and non-Jewish). A smaller portion of the digitized photographs represent his work from when he lived in Buenos Aires.
Fred Siegfried Schiffer was born in Vienna on April 1, 1917. A law student at the University of Vienna until 1938, he reached England as a refugee shortly before war broke out. He was the sole survivor of his family of five, all of whom perished in the Holocaust. In England, he met his wife Olive, whom he married in 1942, and began his distinguished career as a photographer. Olive and Fred had two children, Jennifer and Roger.
In 1948, the family set off to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, Schiffer became a respected artistic and commercial photographer. In 1958, when political unrest in Argentina became unbearable, the Schiffer family moved to Vancouver. Schiffer opened his studio on Seymour Street, where he quickly became Vancouver’s top portrait photographer.
Schiffer had an impeccable eye and a gift for revealing portraiture, as is evidenced in these selections from his collection.