par Zoë Tousignant
Canadian photographic art was not born in the 1970s. There is evidence that photography was in use here as an expressive form, by professionals and amateurs, throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1 Through such outlets as exhibitions, salons, books, and periodicals, artists and other practitioners in Canada were both aware of and actively contributed to the development in photographic aesthetics that was occurring internationally. Nevertheless, the 1970–90 period was a time of particular growth in Canada – a time when a great number of photography-centric institutions were created and the discourse on contemporary photography emerged.
The process of institutionalization – but also simply of popularization – of the medium had begun gradually in the 1960s, chiefly through the activities of the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division (NFB/SPD), which from 1960 to 1980 was headed by Lorraine Monk. The NFB/SPD’s regular organization of travelling exhibitions, acquisition of contemporary photography, and production of photography books gained momentum with the approach of the 1967 centennial celebrations.2 Acting as both an inspiration and a counter-model for future photographic institutions, the NFB/SPD was crucial in helping to define the very notion of “Canadian photography.” As the 1960s drew to a close, signs that such a blanket notion had its limitations began to appear in the discourse, with regional distinctions such as “Quebec photography” and “Western Canadian photography” being affirmed with increasing force.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the establishment of a multitude of local photography-oriented institutional entities that included commercial galleries, artist-run centres (or parallel galleries), associations and groups, museum collections, and periodicals. Many did not last beyond the 1980s, and those that did have done so mostly with slightly adapted, broader mandates – a fact that contributes to the sense that these two decades were a self-contained moment of glory for the practice of photography in Canada. It was a time when it was widely believed that photography needed its own, medium-specific institutions in order to thrive here.
A number of magazines were created in the 1970s and 1980s as spaces devoted exclusively to the exploration of photography as a creative form…
2 See especially Martha Langford, “Introduction,” in Contemporary Canadian Photography from the Collection of the National Film Board (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1984), 7–16.
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