Northern Visions

New exhibit offers unique snapshots of Canada. 

Written by Marianne Helm

November 7, 2017

Photography fans and history buffs can get a close-up look at Canada in the twentieth century at a new exhibit of more than two hundred historical and newsworthy images drawn from the archives of one of the world’s most influential newspapers.

The Faraway Nearby, on display at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, is a showcase of images of Canada from the New York Times’ photo archive, featuring nearly a century of important Canadian political, cultural, and sporting moments.

“We aimed to represent a diverse number of compelling Canadian stories, both big and small, that have informed our national experience throughout the twentieth century,” said Denise Birkhofer, the collections curator and research centre manager at the Ryerson Image Centre. Birkhofer curated the exhibit with Gerald McMaster, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Visual Culture and Curatorial Practice at OCAD University.

The exhibit examines how the country has been depicted by the New York Times. Birkhofer said the exhibit “allows for the study of how Canadian national identity was constructed and disseminated through imagery both at home and abroad.”

The images cover a cross-section of topics, including Expo 67, the 1976 Olympics, sports icons, popular landscapes, well-known personalities and politicians, Canada’s role in the First World War, royal visits, and the intrigue of the Dionne Quintuplets.

Birkhofer said the photos in the exhibit were chosen for their visual appeal, as well as for the significance of the events they depicted.

“Photographs help to bring history to life in a way that differs from textual accounts,” Birkhofer said, adding that the images also allow us to reflect “on the nation’s past and its present relevance.”

The photographic prints themselves provide a chance to study the edit marks, retouches, and original captions to see how they were intended to be used, she says.

The exhibit includes images shot by Canadian photographers Nat Turofsky and Alfred G. Pittaway and also features photos taken by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the stills division of the National Film Board of Canada.

The images in The Faraway Nearby are part of a larger collection of twenty-five thousand historical Canadian photographs acquired from the New York Times photo archive by real estate executive Chris Bratty in 2007. Bratty donated them to the Ryerson Image Centre earlier this year in honour of Canada 150. The collection is now named the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Collection.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017-January 2018 issue of Canada’s History magazine. 

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