May marks the 20th anniversary of Toronto’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the world. This year the month-long, city-wide festival brings together over 200 exhibitions featuring the work of more than 1,500 artists and photographers.
Photography is a uniquely powerful artistic medium. It can stop time and challenge us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Photographs often transform the mundane and familiar into something strange, and vice versa. They reflect our world back to us, capturing beautiful, intimate moments and documenting horrific realities that we can never un-see.
The CONTACT festival is always a great opportunity to discover the work of emerging and established artists who offer fresh insights about the here and now. This year, many of the festival's primary exhibitions also examine images from our past -– retrospectives of pioneering photographers, new works by artists who re-mix found and archival images, and curated displays of vintage press prints.
Our upcoming exhibit The Changing Face of Toronto, similarly, looks back through our archival collections to capture glimpses of life in Toronto as it has changed over the last century. The exhibit will be on display in TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library from May 14 to July 23.
Pauline Mae Clarke (known as “Mrs. X” in the papers) was a contestant in the “Great Stork Derby”. Photographer unknown, ca. August 26, 1936. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library
The Changing Face of Toronto invites you to get up close and personal with some of the unique individuals who have lived and worked in Toronto in the 20th century. The exhibit assembles a fascinating selection of portraits of Torontonians from the 1900s to the 1990s, curated from over a million photographs from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive and the Canadian Documentary Art Collection.
“Button man” Morris Hackman’s Adelaide factory could produce 5,000 buttons an hour. Photo: Boris Spremo/Toronto Star, September 11, 1972. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library
The Toronto Star Photograph Archive, donated to the library in 2014, encompasses a century of images published in Canada’s largest daily newspaper. While the collection includes many familiar faces –- public figures, cultural icons and famous athletes -- our new exhibit looks at the faces of less-recognizable but no less-fascinating individuals.
Ed Clarke ran as the Liberal candidate for Toronto’s St. Andrew—St. Patrick riding in the 1977 provincial election. Photo: Frank Teskey/Toronto Star, April 4, 1970. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library
Many of the images on display were selected from the archive’s “Collective Biography” folders. These folders contain the photographs of men and women who may have only appeared once or twice in the Toronto Star, and were not photographed enough to require a dedicated folder in their name. The portraits in the exhibit vary widely in style, expression and subject matter. They also document changes in photography and photojournalism over the 20th century.
Jemmie Morris, a student of Bruno’s School of Hair Design on Bloor Street West, practices on a mannequin. Photo: Boris Spremo/Toronto Star, November 23, 1990. Toronto Star Photograph Archive, Toronto Public Library
The Changing Face of Toronto invites you to come face-to-face with people who are more or less strangers. Who are they? What was the city they lived in like at the time? Assembled together, these images document both subtle and broad changes to demographics, fashion, technology, work and leisure.
An unnamed organ grinder on Bay Street is shown in this 1922 photograph by Van & Ryan. Canadian Documentary Art Collection, Toronto Public Library
The exhibit is guest-curated by Carol Elder, former photo archivist at the Toronto Star.
Can't wait? The show doesn't open until May 14, but in the meantime, you can explore some past virtual exhibits featuring images from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive:
- Exposed - Explore our 2015 TD Gallery exhibit that featured highlights from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive. Powerful and provocative, these photographs were the lens through which Toronto Star readers witnessed the defining moments of the 20th century.
- Canada Entertains! - A selection of photos of 20th century Canadian entertainers from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.
- Demonstrations - Compelling photos from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive of various demonstrations in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada during the 20th century.
- Publisher’s Choice - A selection of photographs from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive, donated to the Toronto Public Library in June, 2014.
You can also explore our Digital Archive, which features thousands of digitized photographs from our Special Collections, including images from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive, as well as more esoteric finds like spirit photographs belonging to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
What are your must-see picks for this year's CONTACT Festival? Let us know in the comments.