A Few Case Studies

[Spring 2008]

by Jacques Doyon

Photography is becoming an increasingly important component of private collections. Recognition of the wealth and diversity of the photographic tradition, as well as a significant rise in the value of photographs on the art market, have accompanied this evolution. That is why we have chosen, for this issue, to highlight collections that take into account the variety of states of photography and integrate components of its history, while being focused on contemporary production.

The photographic image is prominent in the collection of the Hendeles Foundation in Toronto. Ydessa Hendeles has acquired major corpuses of modern photography, as well as an impressive number of vernacular photographs. The foundation’s exhibitions place these images in relation with works and artefacts of visual culture to provide a critical exploration of issues in recent history. Partners (The Teddy Bear Project) – with more than a thousand images of people photographed with their teddy bears tracing the history of an entire century – and Predators and Prey – with its press photographs and trading cards showing the popularity, and then the fear, of the zeppelin in the twentieth century – are two examples of photography used as a catalyst for re-evaluation of recent memory.

W. M. Hunt, a photography expert and gallery owner, has assembled a private collection of more than a thousand portraits, all characterized by the absence of the subject’s eyes. This very unusual gathering of apparently failed attempts at portraiture constitute a group of images that is very revealing of the emotions and social aspects underlying the photographic act. Cutting across all eras and genres, this collection is offered as an unusual condensation of the history of photography. We focus here on a less well-known section of the collection, devoted to vernacular photography. Hunt, who advocates for the recognition of amateur photography, sees this part of his collection as highly important.

The Lazare family’s collection is a good example of a group of works that shows the affirmation and maturation of a particular taste. Jack and Harriett Lazare turned gradually toward photography, encouraged by their daughter, who is herself a collector of contemporary photographs. The pictorialist portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron and the desolate ambiences of Edward Hopper’s paintings, to which Jack Lazare confesses a great attraction, evoke the sensibilities of this collection of landscapes and portraits, all marked by a certain melancholy, often related to contemporary social issues.

Finally, we offer an overview of the collections of Montrealers Alexandre Taillefer and Luc Larochelle. Both collections, devoted largely to contemporary photography and including strong works, are indicative of the state of and market for contemporary photography in Quebec. Together, these five case studies bespeak the diversity and complexity of private photography collections.