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HOME / PHOTOGRAPHY - BY SASHA MULLALLY / 2. PICTORIALISM AND PROFESSIONALIZATION /


c. Mildred (Millie) Gamble

Mildred (Millie) Gamble was born in 1887 in Cascumpec, Prince Edward Island. Her family moved to Tryon when she was young, and Millie subsequently spent most of her active life in that community. Gamble is part of a first generation of Islanders to engage in amateur photography. Why Gamble chose photography as a hobby is unclear, but it seems she made pictures to record events, people, and Island life -- much as we take pictures for family albums today to help us remember occasions and people close to us -- but it is also obvious she did it with the purpose of making art. Gamble pursued the avocation of photography as an artist would: creating beautiful and meaningful images that pleased her. The subjects of her photos are highly personal but indicate an artist's eye for compositional balance and control of visual detail. Gamble's photographs are also informed by the "pictorial tradition" that sought, above all else, to preserve an idealized record of a way of life.

Gamble began to take pictures in 1904, when she was given a camera by an uncle whom she visited one summer in Truro, Nova Scotia. The camera delighted Millie, and the gift began her lifelong love of photography. The Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown recently exhibited the Gamble collection, which comprises a large body of pictures showing a deep love of family and communal relations. During her own life, however, she never "showed" her photographs. Appreciation for her art is posthumous.

She did not make her living by photography. In 1904, when her photography began, Millie Gamble was also beginning her first teaching job. Gamble taught in various one-room schoolhouses in her area of Prince Edward Island from 1904 to 1919. Her favourite photographic subjects right from the beginning were children, including the children at Tryon school, shown below.


Gamble's pictures also celebrate female social relations, as in this photo where Millie and three of her friends are participating in the tradition of formally paying a call to a new bride.

In contrast to the 19th-century use of photography as a means to record progress and prosperity, Gamble's early 20th-century photographs attempt to represent a vision of rural family life, idealized childhood, and female communal relations. Whereas the 19th-century pictures of the Duvernet family were urban and formalized, Gamble's are rural and are posed informally. This is a critical change in the message of photographs: even though they do not represent the "everyday," the informality of Gamble's photos makes them seem more "real" than the pictures in the Duvernet album. Her photographs are her way of making her most positive experiences of Island life the most prominent part of her own and, perhaps, the collective memory: her happy school children eating ice cream at a local store; Millie and a group of friends going to call on a new bride, dressed in their best clothes. It is probably safe to say that her children were not always so well-behaved, nor did they normally go on ice-cream outings with their teacher, nor did she and her friends have regular occasion to wear their best hats. But what she photographed is what will remain prominent in Gamble's memory of her time and place, and it will colour how we view her life and world from the other end of the 20th century.

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