From iconic sea and mountain landscapes to 1968’s Trudeaumania, The Faraway Nearby details 150 visual stories of Canada’s past. Sourced from The New York Times photo archive, this photography exhibit at the Ryerson Image Centre, is based on a recent donation of 25,000 images from real estate entrepreneur Chris Bratty.
Curators Denise Birkhofer and Gerald McMaster poured through the newly-named Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, whittling down the thousands to 200 images. Representing a timeline from the beginning of the 20th century to the 1990s, the images reveal Canada as seen through the eyes of one of America’s best-known newspapers: The New York Times.
The photographs were taken by Times staff and freelance photographers, as well as supplied to the newspaper by Canadian institutions such as the Government of Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, and the National Film Board of Canada. Birkhofer and McMaster have organized the exhibition like a newspaper, featuring seven sections: national news, international relations, business, sports, travel, arts and culture, and people.
Focusing on memorable moments in the 20th-century timeline, the sections highlight images showing Canada’s involvement in the world wars, the evolving relationship with our neighbour to the south, British Royal Family visits, well-known Canadians from singer Buffy Saint-Marie to environmentalist David Suzuki, the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal with breakout athletic stars Nadia Comaneci and Bruce Jenner, and vintage Canadiana, like the red serge-wearing Royal Canadian Mounted Police, figure skaters dressed in maple leaf sweaters, and Queen Elizabeth II at Niagara Falls.
McMaster and Birkhofer also chose images to showcase the changing face of Canada in the past 100 years due to gentrification and population growth, and effects of industrialization and technology. But the key story of the exhibition is political.
“My favourite images show the relationship between the heads of state of Canada and the U.S.,” says Birkhofer—like the icy relationship between Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and President John F. Kennedy and the close friendship of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald Reagan.
Trudeaumania is well-represented in the exhibit, showing the pop culture impact of the photogenic and irreverent Pierre Trudeau when he was elected prime minister in 1968. One image, which shows a man looking at a wall of Trudeau images plastered on a wall like concert posters, is reminiscent of what we see now in the international media coverage of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Additional photos showcase the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, with images of Quebec separatist protests.
The backs of the images are almost as interesting as the images themselves. “The [photos] show lots of signs of use and fingerprints,” explains Birkhofer,”…and are covered in stamps and names. For many of the images we can see the name of the photographer and how and what section it was used in The New York Times, sometimes multiple times.”
The rest of the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection is being catalogued and added to the Ryerson Image Centre’s archive, accessible to both students and visitors. This acquisition works well with the existing Black Star Collection, with its almost 300,000 20th century images from the archives of the Black Star Photo Agency. These photographs were donated by the Jim Pattison Group with the opening of the Ryerson Image Centre in 2012, at the time the largest gift of art to a Canadian university.
The Faraway Nearby opens on September 13 and runs until December 10, 2017. The exhibit is open daily and admission is free. The exhibition also includes an accompanying book, The Faraway Nearby, published by Black Dog Publishing.
Photos courtesy of the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection, Ryerson Image Centre.
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