Ryerson Image Centre receives large Berenice Abbott collection

The Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) is the recipient of a new collection by Berenice Abbott, a pioneer of female photography.

The centre announced last Wednesday that an unnamed group of Canadian philanthropists purchased the archive from the Abbott Estate to donate it to the RIC.

The archive consists of 6,000 photographs and 7,000 negatives from the mid-’20s through to the ’80s. It also has book maquettes, correspondence, personal journals, business records and ephemera.

“The willingness of the various parties to extend themselves so that this collection could come to us here in Toronto is real evidence that Toronto – and more immediately the Ryerson Image Centre – has become internationally recognized as important places for photography and photo history,” said Paul Ruth, director of the RIC.

Abbott, who died at 93 in 1991, was regarded as a documentarian and experimentalist in her medium. She was famous for her black-and-white portraits and city photography. One of her most well-known projects, Changing of New York, a photo series documenting the city’s transition during the Great Depression and the Second World War, is included in the archive

“(Changing of New York) is now situated in the heart of a changing downtown Toronto – a city that is ever more regarded as one the great cities in the world and one of the burgeoning metropolises in the world,” said Roth. “It puts us among the front rank of institutions like ours that welcome researchers and scholars who are dealing with photography. It’s very important because our collection is becoming very well-known for photojournalism and for documentary.”

The archive will be joining the other collections that the RIC houses, including the Black Star collection that is comprised of more than 250,000 photographs, and the Photographs collection. Additionally, the RIC is home to individual photographer archives such as Wendy Snyder MacNeil and Jo Spence.

“We now have three individual artists’ archives that are all the work of women who are very well-known as experimentalists and pioneers,” said Roth. “That’s very exciting for us because it means we are developing a strength in representing the role that women have played in the development of photography as a medium.”

Roth said that the centre has already received multiple queries about a possible exhibition of the collection. He hopes to do this as soon as possible.

There is no confirmed date for an exhibition as of yet, but Roth said that it will not be a repeat of the Abbott retrospective that the RIC organized three years ago.

“The Abbott archive is a great example (of an archive) because you can actually see the working materials and the original negatives,” said Roth. “We’re definitely aware that a lot of people are going to want to see this material.”


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March 11, 2015 Issue