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A panorama shot of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside from Eric Deis.

Courtesy Eric Deis/Courtesy Eric Deis

With the world coming to his hometown for the Olympics, fine arts photographer Eric Deis decided it would be a good thing to give visitors a close look at things.

Really close.

Posted on his website just in time for the Olympics is a series of high-resolution photographs shot on the Downtown Eastside, and one big shot of Yaletown towers that is so detailed you can zoom right in to people's living rooms.

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"I've launched a campaign to garner awareness on the Downtown Eastside while the eyes of the world are on Vancouver," he says.

Mr. Deis knows that many media photographers, while in the city for the Games, were drawn to the Downtown Eastside, a shockingly poor neighbourhood where drug users shoot up openly on the street only a few blocks from BC Place, the stadium where opening ceremonies were held.

But he worried that those pictures gave a distorted view of the neighbourhood.

"The problem is that a lot of the photographs you see in the media [have]a very tight focus. They show you the addict putting a needle in his arm, but don't pull back to show you the larger context. I'm more interested in what's going on around the addict," he says.

"These zoom-able panoramic shots [I've done]capture candid moments of what life is like along Hastings Street," he says. "These photographs are unique because they … capture a wide expanse of space in conjunction with the interactions of a large group of people."

His pictures may seem banal at first glance, but the magic is in the high amount of detail, which allows a viewer to move around the photograph, zooming in on parts of it.

In one panorama of the Downtown Eastside you see a man lying on a rooftop. But when you zoom in you see he's drinking beer, with a bag of cigarettes next to him, and off to one side is another man, standing on the roof's edge - urinating on to the street below.

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He says he never poses his pictures.

"I just shoot what's there and often it's about discovery for me," he says of the details he sometimes doesn't notice until later.

To get the really high-image pictures he often has to set up a camera on a tripod for a few hours. People often stop to talk to him while he's working.

He says he's met people who were clearly mentally unbalanced as well as drug users and dealers. But he never had any trouble on his shoots.

Still, for those who don't feel it's safe to take a walk in the Downtown Eastside, his pictures are an alternative.

One of Mr. Deis's most intriguing images is of trendy Yaletown, the modern, high-market neighbourhood that has sprung up in a warehouse district, just a few minutes away from the Downtown Eastside.

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In almost every way Yaletown is the polar opposite: Where the Downtown Eastside has decrepit buildings and single-room occupancy hotels, Yaletown has glistening glass towers where two-bedroom condos sell for $600,000.

Shot from the water, Mr. Deis's gigapixel image shows the entire community, but because it is more than 500 separate photographs stitched together, it has more than one 150 times the detail captured by a typical consumer camera.

That detail allows a viewer to zoom in across the water, go past the boats in the harbour (or stop to peak inside the portals) and fly right into the homes of the people living there.

Mr. Deis says he's not worried about invading anyone's privacy.

"If it's an artistic work, which this is, you don't need people's consent," he says. "I'm using my images to create discourse or discussion. Besides, the people living in these glass towers enjoy looking down on you. This just turns the tables and says, hey, we're looking back up."

Several of his images are posted on his website (

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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