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Photography Essays

A Room in the City

Photographs of Gabor Gasztonyi

by (photographer) Gabor Gasztonyi

introduction by Harold Rhenisch & Gabor Mate

Anvil Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2010
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2010
    List Price

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Alcuin Citation for Excellence in Design

Best of 2010 Non-Fiction, Uptown Magazine

A Room in the City presents Gasztonyi's five-year project of photographing the residents of the Cobalt, Balmoral, Regent, and Sunrise Hotels in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in the country. They are represented in private moments, with respect and dignity - in their rooms and on the streets - as they wish to be seen. Gasztonyi's style continues in the great documentation tradition of Anders Petersen and Josef Koudelka, the photographer of the Roma.

Accompanied by a selection of Gasztonyi's diary entries, and poems, the photographs in A Room in the City are complex and varied portraits of people who often go unnoticed or ignored. Gasztonyi's arresting images urge us to look longer, harder, and deeper at a city often deemed one of the "world's best places to live." His unflinching eye insists that we more closely examine a culture where the chasm between have and have-not grows ever deeper, to consider how we are both implicated and removed from the lives of our neighbours.

Excerpt from "Images of our Shadow Side," the foreword by Gabor Maté:

"... No words can fully capture the experience of abuse, trauma, degradation, and shame that has characterized the lives of my patients and Gabor Gasztonyi's subjects... If anything can, it is Gabor's photographs that bring those sad lives into the sharpest relief, for in each photo, in each look, in each gesture, there is a full life."

Praise for A Room in the City:

"A Room in the City is a haunting collection of photographs by Gabor Gasztonyi. ... There's more here than prostitution and crack pipes, although they're in evidence. Whether confronting the lens or averting their gaze, the subjects expose their vulnerability but also their attachment to another human being or a cosseted pet. In the book's foreword, addiction expert Gabor Maté notes that for many of these people, mental illness or substance abuse is a response to trauma. ‘Their entire life,' he adds, ‘has been one of survival against odds.' We're left wondering how people have to live this way in Canada." (Uptown Magazine, Best of 2010 Non-Fiction)

"Gabor Gasztonyi spent five years photographing and talking to the men and women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and A Room in the City is the mesmerizing result. The black-and-white images, and Gasztonyi's diary entries, forcefully and unforgettably capture the desperation - and the unexpected glints of dignity and joy - of lives ravaged by poverty, drugs, mental illness and social dislocation." (The National Post)

"A Room in the City is a remarkable collection that, when coupled with the insights from Maté and the other tidbits of personal poetry and journal entries that Gasztonyi injects into the pages, initiates a great deal of personal reflection. There is little joy between the covers of this book, but that doesn't mean it is not worth owning.

"I had a friend from out of town visit last week, and on her first night in Vancouver, she followed her GPS through Hastings and was terrified by the scene made more surreal by a body under a white sheet that was rolled out of an SRO while she waited for the traffic light to change. A couple days later, she saw my copy of Gasztonyi's book on my coffee table where I'd left it, and so she picked it up and started to read it. At first she was frightened, and then she had questions, but by the end of it she felt that she understood the situation much better and she was no longer scared. Now that's a powerful book!" (Geist)

About the authors

Gabor Gasztonyi (photographer) Gabor has had numerous exhibitions across Canada, including Vancouver, Montreal, and the Arta Gallery in Toronto in 2008. His awards include the Professional Photographers of BC Nikon Prize in 2006, Society of Canadian Artists Award of Excellence in 2008, runner-up Magnum Scotiabank Scholarship, 2008, and a Canadian nomination for the International Black & White Spider awards in 2008. He operates a photography studio and art gallery in New Westminster, BC.

Gabor Gasztonyi's profile page

Harold Rhenisch is an award-winning poet, critic, and cultural commentator. His awards include the Confederation Poetry Prize in 1991 and the BC #38: Yukon Community Newspapers Association Award for Best Arts and Culture Writing in 1996. He is a seven-time runner-up for the CBC/Tilden/Saturday Night Literary Contest. In 2005, he won the ARC Magazine Critics Desk Award for best long poetry review and the Malahat Review Long Poem Prize for "Abandon." He won this prize again in 2007 for "The Bone Yard." His non-fiction book Tom Thomson's Shack was short-listed for two BC Book Prizes in 2000. For its sequel, The Wolves at Evelyn, he won the 2007 George Ryga Award for Social Responsibility in Literature. He is the author of 32 books of poetry, fiction, biography and essays and choreographed Richard Rathwell’s Human Nation for the paper stage. Along with the Norwegian Olav Hauge, he is one of the two poets in the world who learned to write and edit poems by pruning fruit trees, an experience documented in his The Tree Whisperer (Gaspereau, 2021). A direct heir of Bertolt Brecht’s theater, through the dissident playwright and novelist Stefan Schütz, whose radio play Peyote he translated and published, he has invented a theatrical set of cross-genre literary interventions. He has secretly edited and mentored over a hundred writers in the hinterlands of Canada unserved by its university and publishing system and is currently writing a transcultural natural history curriculum and a history of British Columbia centred in the Indian Wars of the American West.

Harold Rhenisch's profile page

Born in Budapest, Gabor Maté immigrated to Canada at the age of twelve. He spent some time working as a teacher before returning to university to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a doctor. He ran a popular family practice for many years, and spent twelve years working in Vancouver's downtown eastside, caring for patients suffering from mental illness, drug addiction, and HIV. In the 1990s, Dr. Maté was a regular medical columnist for the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail. He is also the author of four works of non-fiction. His most recent book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, won a Hubert Evans Award in 2010. In addition to being a physician and bestselling author, Dr. Maté is a highly sought after public speaker. He has three grown children and currently resides in Vancouver, BC, with his wife. Please visit

Gabor Mate's profile page

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