Collections Curator Ryerson Image Centre Denise Birkhofer

Ryerson Image Centre’s new collections curator, Denise Birkhofer with Judit Reigl’s painting, Entrance/Exit, at her exhibit “Judit Reigl: Body of Music” in February 2016. (Courtesy of Denise Birkhofer)

Ryerson Image Centre’s (RIC) new collections curator and research centre manager started her first day on Sept. 12.  

Denise Birkhofer drove from Oberlin, Ohio to Toronto on Friday. This marks a big move for Birkhofer, as she goes from overseeing collections of post-1900 artworks at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, to now managing the RIC’s reputable photography collection.

Birkhofer has visited the RIC in the past and said she was impressed with the museum’s exhibitions and initiatives. When she saw an open position at the RIC, she jumped at the chance to take it.

“It seemed like a really great opportunity for me as a photography specialist, to work at such an up and coming, cutting edge photography institution,” said Birkhofer.

Paul Roth, director of the RIC, said that out of the 130 applicants for the position, Birkhofer was one of the few people who had a variety of strengths that made her suitable for the job.

As a specialist in modern and contemporary art and photography, Birkhofer has curated numerous exhibitions and has also published work on topics like photojournalism in Mexico and Latin American art.

Ryerson Image Centre collections curator Denise Birkhofer

Ryerson Image Centre’s new collections curator, Denise Birkhofer leading a tour of her exhibition, “Latin American and Latino Art,” at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in September 2014. (Selina Bartlett)

Roth said Birkhofer’s diverse knowledge in photo history could contribute to making the RIC’s collection more accessible to a wider audience. To do this, one of Birkhofer’s main focuses will be to help accelerate the digitization of the RIC’s photo collections.

“Part of making the RIC more open and inclusive is to digitize the collections so that they can be put online and people can have remote access to them,” Roth explained.

An example of that is their Black Star collection, which contains over 300,000 photographs. Birkhofer will be the third addition to a team of two that has already begun digitizing the expansive collection.

Another important role Birkhofer will play is acting as the liaison between the museum and the university.

Coming from an academic environment where the museum collaborated very closely with the college and its faculty, Birkhofer said she brings with her the experience of being able to bridge the gap between the RIC and Ryerson as an institution.

“I think with the proper resources and outreach, the RIC collection could really reach other departments across campus and the community,” she said. “Different programs could benefit from teaching with the materials from the RIC, which are so vast and cover all kinds of time periods and subjects.”

Prior to Birkhofer, Peter Higdon was the collection’s curator. He retired in fall 2014 and is credited for making the RIC’s photography collection the world-class resource it is today.

Birkhofer said she plans on continuing Higdon’s legacy by contributing her global contemporary viewpoint to the collections.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that in the featured photo, Birkhofer is pictured standing in front of her own painting, but in fact, she is standing in front of a painting by Judit Reigl. This version has been corrected.


Isabelle Docto is a multimedia journalist who's lacking in height, but not in perspective. Follow her on twitter @IsabelleDocto.

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