Photo collection brings Canadian history into focus
Legendary lifeguard Joe Fortes (external link) saved dozens of lives in English Bay in Vancouver’s West End in late-1800s/early-1900s British Columbia. He was such a beloved figure that he’s featured on a Canadian postage stamp (external link) .
A “real photo postcard” of Fortes diving into the water, taken by renowned Canadian photographer Philip Timms (external link) , is just one of the 542 works recently donated by former art museum curator Christopher Varley to the Ryerson Image Centre (external link) (RIC).
“I’ve had the honour, the privilege, of providing the RIC with a building block for a historical Canadian collection,” said Varley, former curator of the Vancouver, Stratford and Edmonton art galleries. “I like what the image centre is doing, they do great programming focused on photography, so it makes sense for these photographs to go to Ryerson.”
The collection includes photographs, postcards, a mirror with a photograph inlaid in the frame – even mug shots – from the late 19th to the 21st century.
“One of the most exciting aspects of this acquisition is that it significantly strengthens the representation of historical Canadian photography in our collection,” said RIC collections curator Denise Birkhofer. “The collection will be accessible to students and researchers, both local and international, who wish to study the history of Canadian photography.”
The photographs in Varley’s collection depict diverse landscapes and changing cityscapes across the country, documented by the likes of Timms, Geoffrey James, Douglas Curran, Charles Gagnon, Fred Herzog, Fred Douglas and William Notman.
“Notman’s son made several trips out to Western Canada in the 1880s and ’90s and did a lot of photography along the CPR railway route,” said Varley. “I’m really interested in the relationship of photography to the settlement of the West.”
Varley’s grandfather, Group of Seven artist Frederick Varley, and his father, professional photographer Peter Varley, helped inspire his love of art and photography.
“Some of my early memories are of North Vancouver in the mid-1950s and my father’s dark room and cameras,” he said.
“Through the history of photography, you see history unfold before your eyes through these images. They are windows on the past.”
To learn more about the collection, and its upcoming exhibits and events – including a Noontime Collection talk with Christopher Varley scheduled for April 2020 – check the Ryerson Image Centre website (external link) .