Archival Inspiration: “Dirty Pictures”

Over the past week I have spent a number of days at the Provincial Archives of Alberta researching in the STOP (Save Tomorrow Oppose Pollution) collection. Specifically, the set of files on the annual “Dirty Pictures Contest” that have caught my attention and are the inspiration for a paper I am working on for a counter-cultures in Canada workshop on Hornby Island in early July. Looking into the STOP’s photo contest turned up some interesting bits that left me totally enthralled with an organization that only existed from 1970-1979.
The first thing that is fueling my interest in the “Dirty Pictures Contest” is the name. The name is brilliant! It grabs attention then subverts assumptions. Tell someone you are going to the archive to look at files from an annual “Dirty Pictures Contest” and they will give you a confused, but intrigued look that turns to entertained comprehension when told “dirty” means “pollution” in this particular contest — though I think some people are disappointed the pictures are not of boobies.
Second, STOP seems to have done public outreach right with this competition. They had radio stations across the province making announcements to promote the contest. The cost of the announcements was often donated to the cause by the stations. The major newspapers, The Calgary Hearld and The Edmonton Journal, covered it and reproduced the pictures for the five years the contest ran. The final judging was sometimes filmed and aired on the CBC local news. STOP also broke language barriers. They engaged with the Franco-Albertan community by approaching and publicizing with the CHFA (radio) and soliciting support from the Franco-Albertan newspaper.
Lastly, the photographs STOP received for “Dirty Pictures” show the extent of pollution in Alberta in the 1970s. The images include everything from urban littering, to pulp and paper mill air pollution, to minor oil spill issues, and the growths on lakes from detergents. By the fourth year of the “Dirty Pictures Contest”, 1974, STOP received over 220 photographs as well as enough drawings from school age children to hold a parallel contest for them. The point of the contest was to collect images of pollution, raise awareness through the holding the contest then circulating the images, and get people to think about pollution in its various forms and take actions about it.
STOP (Save Tomorrow Oppose Pollution) engaged the public in and around Edmonton with the issues of pollution through the picture contest, puppet theatre (in English and French), public speaking engagements, letter writing to industry and government, petitions, lobbying government, and circulating press releases. For a group based out of the University of Alberta and with a membership consisted of equal parts students and general public, STOP did very well. Yet, they are relatively unknown today and did not last into the 1980s for reasons that are still a mystery to me. Hopefully the reasons for the decline of STOP become clearer as I keep digging through their records. Until then, the “Dirty pictures Contest” has provided plenty of material to play with.

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About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
This entry was posted in Canada, Environment, Environmentalism, Research and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Archival Inspiration: “Dirty Pictures”

  1. Mary-Ann Shantz says:

    “Dirty Pictures Contest” – I love it! This is such a cool find, and I agree, brilliant P.R.

    • And it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of great PR. How many local activist groups recognize the value of engaging a group like the franco-albertans in achieving their goals – STOP even had plans to reach out to the Ukrainian community in Ukrainian!

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