Andy Warhol called him the “master of instant retrospectives.” Now anyone can view the works of Karl Spreitz as part of a new online virtual exhibition launched by UVic Art Collections.
The collection covers more than three decades and consists of over 100 reels of 16 mm film. It includes everything from a scene of Limner artist Myfanwy Pavelic talking to her friend Katherine Hepburn on the phone to the totems at Skunggwai (Anthony Island) in Haida Gwaii.
“Karl Spreitz is a compelling character—both for his larger-than-life personality and his accomplishments in film, photography and the arts,” explains Caroline Riedel of UVic Art Collections. “He was a pioneer and mentor in documentary and experimental film-making in BC as well as one of the founding members of the Limners Society, an art group that virtually defined the modern art scene here in the 1970s.”
It’s a unique project given that museums tend to digitize images of objects, not film, says Riedel, who curated the exhibit with technical support from UVic’s Fine Arts Studios for Integrated Media and some much-needed student assistance. “This project wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of Fine Arts graduate intern Dorothy June Fraser in History in Art, and former grad intern Kim Reinhardt, as well as co-op students Alex King and Margaret Weller,” says Riedel. The project was partially funded by the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC.
Spreitz, who was born in Austria in 1927 and immigrated to Canada in 1952, did not follow a linear career trajectory. In 1944, he fled across Germany on a stolen bicycle and ended up after the war holding a 16 mm movie camera to film European track and field events while serving as an Olympic coach. In 1959, he moved to Victoria where his distinctive filmic and photography style began to flourish, as a staff photographer for Beautiful British Columbia magazine in the late 1960s and especially at the height of the “underground” film movement of the 1970s.
The online collection offers a fascinating mix of footage, from scenes with local artists to archival images of the infamous 1896 Point Ellice Bridge disaster (which utilizes the “Ken Burns effect” of having the camera move along still photographs long before Burns was making his documentaries) and the construction of the Macauley Point sewage outfall—sure to be of interest in these times of heated sewage debates.