Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. A history, a perspective, a place – Pierre Dessureault (Supplement)

[Fall 1995]

by Pierre Dessureault

A museum is not only the sum of the objects in its collections but the history of an institution and a perspective on a particular area of creative expression. The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, formerly the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board of Canada, was established in January 1985. Its transfer to the National Museums Corporation and its affiliation with the National Gallery of Canada perpetuated the mandate and programmes of the Division.

The Division was set up by the Canadian government in 1939 to meet its information and documentary needs. Through its history it consolidated its interest in photographic production and its dissemination through publications and exhibitions, recognizing both the informational aspect and the artistic potential of the medium. Over the years, the collection developed along two complementary lines. As the Division’s successor, the CMCP continues to collect, preserve, and communicate the diverse practices of a medium which explores both social, historical, and psychological reality and artistic expression.

At the time the CMCP was created, its collection included more than 156,000 photographs, transparencies, negatives, books, filmstrips, audio-visual presentations, mixed media works, assemblages and installation pieces, video art, and other types of art and information media based on photography. At the end of its first decade, more than 3,000 works have been added through purchase, gift, and commission.

The establishment of the CMCP in its new home in downtown Ottawa in the spring of 1992 provided a space where the collection could be showcased in a programme of temporary exhibitions, where works organized within a specific theme could be displayed alongside monographs based on personal projects and retrospectives dedicated to the work of a particular artist. After showing in Ottawa, many of the exhibitions travel throughout Canada and abroad, providing other institutions and publics the opportunity to appreciate the multiplicity of current photographic expression and the wealth of the CMCP’s holdings.