documentary photographers: a new twist

Vincenzo Pietropaolo
by Robert Lansdale

Toronto. In March, we were favoured with two delightful and interesting speakers, both photographers; one, long retired and the other still very active. Our second speaker of the evening, who took over the balance of the presentation period, Vincenzo Pietropaolo, is both a photographer and an author. Vince has spoken to our society many times.

His talk tonight was on the history of  documentary photography with a fresh and interesting take. Rather than drag out oft-quoted names from America and Europe, he chose to use Canadian photographers (even pre-confederation) in a new perspective. Vince began with the famous trio of Armstrong, Beere, and Hime, known as ABH collectively. This trio is best known for their documentation of Toronto in the 1850s. They shot an almost 360 degree set of photographs (see City Blocks, City Spaces, [CBCS], edited by Lilly Koltun – especially the biography of ABH and the famous panorama set of photographs listed as #34 with a half-tone reproduction included in the back cover sleeve). The actual print of the panorama was sent to England to promote Toronto as the capital of the Dominion. It was never returned other than to be part of the CBCS exhibit in Ottawa and Toronto in 1980.

Vince highlighted with photographs and words the many Canadian photographers and studios like the Livernois family studio of Quebec City operating for over 100 years. Elise L’Hereux, (wife of Jules Livernois senior and one of the first professional photographers of her gender in Canada pre-confederation); Humphrey Hime (previously of ABH) for his pivotal work on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan rivers in 1858; and the better known and famous William Notman and his studios for their effect on the meaning of being a Canadian. Not to forget others of the gentler gender, Vince noted the excellent work of Hannah Maynard and Mattie Gunterman in BC.

He highlighted less known but important photographers in Canada like Eugene Finn who eventually headed the stills division of the government’s Motion Picture Bureau (that division  later merged with the National Film Board). Finn left a legacy of some 80,000 images. And Vince also noted my personal favourite, Arthur S Goss, who was Toronto’s first official photographer. Another relatively unknown photographer mentioned by Vince was Michel Lambeth who was an activist for photographers’ rights amongst other things. And he mentioned others like Lutz Dille for having “a compassionate eye of an immigrant photographer“.

Closing, he credited fellow PHSC member Laura Jones and her late husband, John Phillips, for creating the first known photo gallery in Canada, the Baldwin Street Gallery, a home for many budding Toronto photographers including himself. The meeting ended with a second round of Q&A to the great pleasure of the audience.

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