Author Tags: Downtown Eastside, Photography

Willie Pickton was able to procure most of his victims from the Downtown Eastside with relative ease. The neighbourhood is notorious as North America’s most concentrated area of injection drug use. Its existence belies the boast that Vancouver is one of the world’s most liveable cities and it renders obscene the claim that British Columbia is “the best place on earth.”

But as evidenced by the grim but alluring photos of Gabor Gasztonyi in A Room in the City (Anvil $40), the DTES can also be a place of triumph over despair. Fellini-esque yet oddly endearing, Gasztonyi’s photos reveal the human carnival of the emaciated, walking wounded—down and out but reflexively animated—in the way that Czech photographer Josef Koudelka was able to capture the spirit of Roma.

We get to know these people; they look us straight in the eyes.

With its subterranean homesick hues of black and white, A Room in the City is an even more disturbing photo collection than Lincoln Clarkes’ controversial views of women in the streets, Heroines (Anvil 2002).

Gasztonyi has been able to infiltrate hotels such as the Cobalt, the Balmoral, the Regent, The Lux and the Sunrise, where he has gained the trust of his subjects in the relative safety of their rooms, and provide interior views of stark intimacy

“Led by our photographer guide,” writes Gabor Maté in his foreword, “we enter this dark realm, like some modern Dante, to learn about ourselves….

“We can examine compassionately the sources of our own despair or disdain, our urges to cover our eyes or to look deeper, of our own identification with or rejection of the divine beings whose ravaged images Gabor Gasztonyi’s unblinking eyes have sought out for us….

“If we look at Gabor’s pictures with open eyes, hearts and minds, we will find ourselves. The Downtown Eastside is us.”

Gabor Gasztonyi has had exhibitions across Canada, including Vancouver, Montreal, and the ARTA Gallery in Toronto in 2008. Some of his awards include The Professional Photographers of BC Nikon Prize, Society of Canadian Artists Awards of Excellence, runner-up Magnum Scotia Bank Scholarship, and a Canadian nomination for the International Black & White Spider Awards in 2008. He operates a photography studio and gallery in New Westminster, BC.


“A man sleeps in a bathtub, but he finds sleep and he finds dreams. A woman stuffs her small hotel room full of objects that give her a sense of companionship and wealth of sorts. Someone smokes crack—it takes her mind off things, gives her temporary relief, makes the world acceptable and even enjoyable for a few brief moments. Adorned by a gaudy hat and sun shades a woman shows off her torso—there’s something about me yet to celebrate, she says. A woman gazes back at the camera with a jocular expression—you think I’m something to look at, she asks, you should see yourself! The grizzled man known in the DTES as Gypsy glares with disdain and rage—you, yes you, he says. You’re no more an angel than me. Others just pose. They are models of their own existence, paragons of the sordid, actors of the absurd, proud or perhaps ashamed or playful or simply indifferent to the camera.” – Gabor Maté

ISBN 978-1-897535-28-8


A Room in the City, foreword by Gabor Mate. (Anvil, 2010) 9781897535288 $45.00

[BCBW 2010]