Issue #189  2/28/2012
The Malcolmson Collection: "Photography Collected Us"

By Alex Novak

'Photography Collected Us, The Malcolmson Collection', is the first major exhibition in Toronto of what has been called the most important collection of historical photography in private hands in Canada. It will run until March 10th at the University of Toronto Art Centre.

Comprised of rare and beautiful objects, including an early daguerreotype, several paper negatives and numerous photographs dating from the mid nineteenth century to the present, it encompasses many of the great names of photography in Europe and North America, including Gustave Le Gray, Eugène Atget, Julia Margaret Cameron, Margaret Bourke-White, Man Ray, Aleksandr Rodchenko and Paul Strand--to name a few. The exhibition includes approximately 170 works.

Despite the breath of the exhibition, there is even more to the fine collection as I found out at a dinner that Harry and Ann Malcolmson graciously hosted for a group of us while I was in Toronto last month. With the intriguing title of the "Salon des Refuses", the Malcolmsons had a smaller showing of many works that didn't make it into the show itself. More than several wonderful images were displayed that would make museum masterworks. I particularly liked a Kertesz, and when Harry joked about each of us red-starring one print to take home with us, I quickly put my dibs in for the image. But there were others that also stood out, including a salt print of a white horse by Jean-Baptiste Frenet; a mysterious modernist image by the Canadian photographer John Vanderpant; a minimalist salt print by J. B. Greene; a couple of great Kertesz photos; and, frankly, many others that my wine-addled brain can't recall in particulars, but still remembers the pleasure that I got looking over this fine collection of images that didn't make it into the show.

"It is particularly appropriate that 'Photography Collected Us' be mounted here," said UTAC Director Niamh O'Laoghaire, "as the University of Toronto is a noted center for research into photography, both historical and contemporary. This exhibition also reflects UTAC's ongoing engagement with the medium of photography and with conceptual art."

'Photography Collected Us' was curated by Heather Diack. The show explores the links between photography and the ideas of collection and recollection, of singularity and multiplicity, of being within the frame and yet always exceeding that which the camera captures.