Sharing the Frame: Photographic Objects from the Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection (1840–1970)

Apr 29–Jun 10,  2023
The Image Centre ⁠ accessible_forward
    Unidentified photographer, [Gert and Fred], after 1930, (gelatin silver print). Courtesy of Toronto Metropolitan University Libraries
Unidentified photographer, [Gert and Fred], after 1930, (gelatin silver print). Courtesy of Toronto Metropolitan University Libraries

This exhibition presents 19th and 20th century vernacular objects from the Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Libraries. Donated in 2009, the collection comprises over 2,300 photographic objects, including snapshots, albums, cartes-de-visite, and lantern slides, depicting travel views, recreational and educational scenes, and family portraits. Together, these objects reveal a Western colonial desire for visual consumption in domestic, public, and commercial settings.

Vernacular photography comprises both commercial and personal images of weddings, vacations, first communions, new homes, and birthday parties. While these images are frequently mundane and repetitive, they are simultaneously  unique, holding significant value for their makers and owners.​ However, this value evaporates when the sharing of the mementos ceases, as with an owner’s death or another such end to its trajectory. Author Geoffrey Batchen states in Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001, p57) that “vernaculars are photography’s parergon, the part of its history that has been pushed to the margins (or beyond them to oblivion) precisely in order to delimit what is and is not proper to this history’s enterprise.”

Unidentified photographer, [Portrait of a man and woman embracing], [date unknown], (gelatin silver print). Courtesy of Toronto Metropolitan University Libraries

Despite what appears to be a lack of interest in the aesthetics of certain photographic genres, especially vernacular photography, the curators of Sharing the Frame feel that the objects presented hold significance because of their interchangeability and adaptable contextualization. Often passed on and shared intergenerationally, their embodied knowledge tends to disappear when the objects are eventually lost or forgotten. Luckily, they sometimes end up on the doorsteps of archival, cultural, or educational institutions. These new homes are presented with an interesting yet complex challenge: to understand each object’s material nature and its cultural and historical background. Research and scholarship create new narratives that can help uncover the layered issues these once-rejected objects continue to carry.

Organized by the 2022–2023 second-year graduate students from Toronto Metropolitan University’s graduate Film & Photography Preservation and Collections Management program. Presented by The Image Centre in partnership with CONTACT