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Blackface in the Kodak Archive, Ryerson’s Special Collections: Context for Reading ‘Racist’ Images

By Cheryl Thompson and Emilie Jabouin

Introduction

In 2019, I exhibited my SSHRC-Insight Development Grant-funded research, “Newspapers, Minstrelsy and Black Performance at the Theatre: Mapping the Spaces of Nation­Building in Toronto, 1870s to 1930s,” as part of RUBIX, a showcase celebration of the Scholarly Research and Creative (SRC) activity within the Faculty of Communication and Design. At this event, I met Alison Skyrme, Special Collections librarian at Ryerson who suggested that I drop by Special Collections to examine images of blackface in the Kodak Canada Archive. 

I was struck by her invitation because it happens so rarely. Despite the fact that blackface was a popular theatrical form of entertainment from the 1830s through 1960s, performed not only in the professional theatre and in Hollywood films, but also in communities at high schools, athletic clubs, hospitals, at retail, and even summer camps, most people want to hide their blackface artefacts, they do not invite Black researchers to interrogate them. And so, one afternoon in the fall of 2019, I and my graduate student, Emilie Jabouin, scoured through the Kodak Archive’s blackface repertoire. While the images were new to me, I had prior knowledge of the important role that Kodak played in the development of photography. 

The company, which stopped making digital cameras in 2012, was founded by George Eastman in 1888. At that time, the Eastman Kodak Company introduced on the mass market a box camera that allowed users to take their own photographs. For the first time, photography was quick, simple, and accessible. The Kodak box camera was the first commercially available product that allowed users to do little more than press a button to take their own pictures. Within a generation, millions of people were given the ability to produce their own images, they were no longer at the whim of a professional photographer’s stylistic choices in terms of dress, pose, and costume. 

With the proliferation of the photographic “snapshot,” images, and postcards, by the end of the nineteenth century, ideas about the power of photography created a new relationship between image and reality. For example, an advertisement appearing in the Ladies’ Home Journal in 1897 declared, “Take a KODAK with You. Make the most of the lure of the first soft days of spring. Picture the parks and the fields and the woods. Let Kodak be your companion on every out-of-door day – twill [sic] give you a fuller joy in the day itself – and afterward the joy of possessing pictures of the places and people that you are interested in.” 

Image of a 1912 advertisement for Kodak Cameras, featuring a photograph of a women in a white dress, carrying a Kodak camera and case, and the slogan "Take a Kodak With You!".
Advertisement from the Ladies Home Journal, 1912. Image from the Duke Universities Library, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, Emergence of Advertising in America: 1850-1920 digital collection. Item number 429898.

The mass adoption of photography coincided with blackface’s popularization during vaudeville. Blackface minstrelsy began as a theatrical form of entertainment in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia in the 1830s and 1840s. From its outset blackface was performed by white, mostly male northern performers who crossed racial and gender boundaries by mimicking African Americans (e.g., they would wear bright red lipstick, darken their faces with coal-black make-up, exaggerate their facial expressions, and cross dress) in order to entertain audiences with the supposedly “authentic” music, humour, and dance ostensibly common on southern plantations. 

By the 1880s, the minstrel show had waned in popularity, but vaudeville theatre brought many of its conventions back through the reinvention of the stage into a variety show. When vaudeville appeared, it was unique because unlike the legitimate theatre, vaudeville acts came from all ethnic groups and genders, in all shapes and sizes, ranging from the “respectable” thespian to the circus “freak,” from burlesque to chorus performers. By the mid-1920s, there were no longer vaudeville theatres in Ontario, and a decade later, there was no vaudeville at all, but blackface performance continued.

This is the sociocultural context that frames the images located within the Kodak Archive. By the 1920s, as blackface declined at the theatre, it was performed on an amateur, local level. The images discussed here range from 1920 to 1923. They predate feature ‘talking pictures’ such as The Jazz Singer (1927), starring Al Jolson in blackface. They were also taken after the First World War, the Spanish Influenza pandemic, and the fight for women’s suffrage – all of which came to their completion in the years between 1918 and 1919. These images reflect both a sentiment of celebration but also nostalgia for ‘simpler times.’

With this context in mind, we explain how the Kodak Archive came to be, and also how to read images that, from today’s point of view are racist, but functioned at the time under a different guise; they functioned under the auspices of entertainment. How do you contend with such contradictions in the present? Why, and how, must we address the images’ latent racism today, resisting the desire to keep them hidden? 

By talking about these difficult images, we learn how to grapple with our contemporary moment when anti-Black racism still exists, and blackface is still adorned to mimic and defame Black bodies. Our intention is to encourage students, faculty, and researchers to engage with these images so that we can have much needed conversations about the production of racial difference and the anti-Black racism such acts engender.

Kodak Blackface Records

The Canadian Kodak Company (later Kodak Canada) arrived in Canada in 1899, and officially opened its offices on Colborne Street in Toronto in 1900. In 1921, the company moved its manufacturing facility to a location near Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue West, and from there, “Kodak Heights” manufactured cameras and other photography equipment, and employed 3,000 people at its peak. Like many companies of this era, Kodak had an athletics club. The Kodak Athletics Association (KAA) was an employee lead group within the company whose leadership was elected by employees. The association organized a variety of events, such as Christmas parties, ladies’ nights, drama club, and dances, in addition to bowling, hockey, volleyball, and softball leagues. The Kodak Heights KAA also organized blackface minstrel shows that can be found in the Kodak Archive.

There are several themes that can be seen in the Kodak Archive’s blackface images. First, the images reveal a rich history of performing minstrel shows, and of the cultural importance they had for many Canadian families. The song and dance numbers, operas, orchestras, and the ways that these shows functioned as team building opportunities for employees were not unique to Kodak; this was common practice across corporate Canada. The shows were commemorated with formal portraits, and extensive reviews published in the employee newsletter, containing the blackface images. Of all the records, there are a few that stood out to us as examples of amateur blackface performance.

In “First Annual Kodak Minstrel Show” (1920), a blackface cast with three white women, as well as two white men who are not in blackface captures what blackface ensembles in racial caricature looked like. What separated the characters in the minstrel show from each other were speech, dress, and geographic location. End-men played tambourine and bones (they were sometimes called Tambo and Brudder Bones) and were portrayed as being of lower class by costume and vernacular. These characters wore satin suits, oversized ties, and curly wigs, and they engaged in jokes and quips with the smartly attired white Interlocutor who commanded centre stage. The Interlocutor, sometimes called the middleman, did not wear blackface. He was a kind of mouthpiece for high culture: his dress and speech were upper class, and the plot usually centred on the End-men putting down the Interlocutor because it would have been funny to see “Black folks” on the plantation making fun of the “civilized” Northerner. 

Item is a group portrait of a minstel show cast, post on stage, most of whom are white performers in blackface.
“First Annual Kodak Minstrel Show” (1920). Item number 2005.001.06.03.734 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at the Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

Both the American flag and the Union Jack are visible in the image. The American flag likely signaled that the content of the show originated there, while the Union Jack was commonly flown at this time in Canada. The Citizenship Act of 1946 demarcates the moment when Canadians were no longer considered British subjects. In 1965, the Canadian flag replaced the Union Jack as our national flag, then as part of the Centennial Year celebrations two years later, “O Canada” became the official national anthem. Hence, at the time of the Kodak Minstrels, Canadian society was profoundly British, though it was also, paradoxically, becoming increasingly patriotic. For example, in “Second Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Burgess & Seymour” (1921) two white men stand beside drawings of white women. One man is in blackface as an End Men, and the other, as Interlocutor, is not. One drawing captures a woman with a hat brimmed with the word “Canadian” while the other woman’s hat reads “Kodak.” This not only places the American company in Canada, it also marks Canadianness as something distinct, though culturally, it was quite undefined at this moment in our history. 

“Second Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Burgess & Symour” (1921). Item number 2005.001.06.03.734 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at the Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

“Third Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Crystal Theatre” (1922) is a good example of the extent to which minstrel shows required detailed production, not just with actors in blackface but also musicians, stage set-up, make-up, dress, and costume design. This image is particularly striking because there is a child (between the sixth and seventh End Men, from left to right) who is also in blackface. The boy is dressed all in white, even his shoes. Because community blackface was so common, children were often used as part of the show and/or encouraged to attend. These were not censored events even as they are offensive to viewers today. Some questions that are important to think about in terms of this image are what kind of trauma was ingrained and normalized in this child? How did they process the mimetic racial play that was at work in the performance of blackface?  

“Third Annual Kodak Minstrel Show, Crystal Theatre” (1922) Item Number 2005.001.06.03.743 from the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection, at the Ryerson University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Finally, in “Mount Department Minstrels at ‘Girls Night’ Frolic” (1923) nine women appear in blackface, as part of what was dubbed “An Adamless Evening”.  At this event, women were encouraged to set aside convention and enjoy themselves without their husbands. Eight of them are in blackface dressed in overalls, straw field hats and handkerchiefs as End Men, and the one performing as the Interlocutor is not in blackface sitting on a chair. The performers are not only women in blackface, they are also in drag. Significantly, the minstrel show of the nineteenth century was for all intents and purposes the first drag variety show. Most minstrel troupes were men who wore blackface to sing, dance and tell jokes and while there were female characters, these were typically female impersonators, or as Marjorie Garber describes, “double crossover figures, men playing women, women playing blacks” (276). In this sense, blackface minstrelsy became a site where compulsory heterosexuality was challenged, even as women were also derided through impersonation and misogyny. Michael Rogin explains cross-dressing as challenging binary categories in two ways, “by locating pleasure in the in-between condition (woman dressed as man, white as black) and by parodying the supposedly natural identity” (31). In other words, cross-dressing in the blackface theatre signified not an either/or binary but an intersectional both/and which called into question the repressive gender categories of man and woman, white and black. As it relates to the KAA, however, such performances might have been just “play” or they might have similarly functioned as a form challenging gender roles that would have been derided in ‘real life’ in the 1920s.

A group portrait of an all female, white minstrel show cast, 8 of whom are in blackface, one who is dressed in top hat and tails.
“Mount Department Minstrels at ‘Girls Night’ Frolic” published in the April 1923 edition of “At Kodak Heights”, the employee magazine published at the Canadian Kodak company in Toronto. Item number 2005.001.07.05.03 in the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection at Ryerson University Library, Archives and Special Collections.

How should we read these images?

The initial information about the Kodak Archive was that there was one image in the collection that was known by the Special Collections Library (the collection was processed by contract employees over a number of years), but the extent of the material was not known until a student exhibition, Kodak Canada: The Early Years 1899-1939, which took place at the Ryerson Image Centre. The coverage within the Kodak Heights newsletters was not identified until the dates for the minstrel shows were identified and those issues searched. In other words, the very reason why we have been able to make sense of these images in this collection is because Alison and others put in the work to connect the dots, so to speak, between the images and Canada’s history of blackface. 

These images are difficult. But 2020 has shown us that just because something is difficult does  not mean that it should be ignored, minimized, and kept secret for fear that people will think, in this instance, that Ryerson’s Library and/or the University is ‘racist’ for simply having them in their possession. On the contrary, we would argue that in every library across Canada (and the United States) and in the personal collections of those Canadians who are over the age of 70, in particular, there exists blackface image(s) and/or amateur playbill(s) of local shows they either attended and/or participated in as children. The time is now to take these images out of the shadows and bring them into the light so that we can contend with this history that speaks more to who we are as Canadians than the myths people tell themselves to prevent from seeing the reality of the past for what it was – complicated, but also virulently anti-Black. 

As such, reading these images first requires that you engage with secondary sources (see the list below) to understand the sociocultural context of their production. Second, before labelling the images as racist and therefore feeling a sense of shame for even looking at them in the first place, take a breath, step back, and start asking questions about the image. Who is in the image? These images were taken at a time when Canada’s Black population was quite small, and companies like Kodak were undoubtedly all-white spaces. What did these performers know about Black people? If they did not know Black people, where did they draw their caricatures from? What is captured in the image, such as instruments, dress, footwear, etc.? What intersections of race, gender and class are at work? Where was the image placed on the page? Is there a heading? Are the names of the sitters listed, and if so, who are they? 

By asking yourself these questions, you begin the process of unpacking rather than reacting to difficult imagery. And by unpacking, you allow yourself to understand the production of racial difference and the ways in which mimicry not only disempowered the mimetic Other, it also disempowered the actor as it prevented them from seeing Black people as whole people – with lives, families and desires. It also prevented white people from acknowledging their own whiteness and privilege. Ultimately, these images of blackface in the Kodak Archive give us an opportunity to unpack white privilege, rather than declare its existence without understanding how it too, like race, is a social construct that, once identified and acknowledged, can be dismantled. It is only when we are all seen for who we are that we can truly lay the past to rest and move on toward a future based on equity and mutual respect. By unmasking Canada’s history of blackface, we believe we are taking a giant step toward achieving this goal.

About the authors: 

Portrait of Dr. Cheryl Thompson

Cheryl Thompson is an Assistant Professor in the School of Creative Industries at Ryerson University. Her next book, Uncle: Race, Nostalgia and the Politics of Loyalty will be published by Coach House Books next February. Follow her on twitter at @DrCherylT.

Portrait of Emilie Jabouin

Emilie Jabouin is a PhD Candidate in Communication & Culture, working on her doctoral dissertation at Ryerson/York universities on Black women organizers and journalists in early 20th-century Canada. Emilie is also a story-teller and dance artist who explores the social and cultural histories and expressions of the African diasporas. Find her on Twitter at @emilie_jabouin.

Additional Reading: 

 Backhouse, Constance. 1999. Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada 1900-1950. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bean, Annemarie. 1996. “Transgressing the Gender Divide: The Female Impersonator in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy.” In Inside the Minstrel Mask: Readings in Nineteenth-Century Blackface Minstrelsy, eds. Annemarie Bean, James V. Hatch, and Brooks McNamara, 245-256. Hanover and London: Wesleyan University Press.

Bernstein, Robin. 2011. Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights. New York: New York University Press.

Bogle, Donald. 2000. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. New York: Continuum.

Boyko, John. 2013. Blood and Daring: How Canada Fought the American Civil War and Forged A Nation. Alfred A. Knoff: Toronto.

Calliste, Agnes. 1993/1994.“Race, Gender and Canadian Immigration Policy: Blacks from the Caribbean, 1900-1932.” Journal of Canadian Studies 28 (4): 131-50.

Careless, J.M.S. 1990. “The Cultural Setting: Ontario Society to 1914.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed. Ann Saddlemyer, 18-51. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Carlin, Bob. 2007. The Birth of the Banjo: Joel Walker Sweeney and Early Minstrelsy. North Carolina and London: McFarland & Company.

Cox, Karen L. 2011. Dreaming of Dixie How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Davies, Robertson. 1990. “The Nineteenth-Century Repertoire.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed. Ann Saddlemyer, 90-122. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ebanda de B’béri, Boulou, Reid-Maroney, Nina and Handel Kashope Wright. 2014. The Promised Land: History and Historiography of the Black Experience in Chatham-Kent’s Settlements and Beyond. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ehlers, Nadine. 2012. Racial Imperatives: Discipline, Performativity, and Struggles Against Subjection. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Fanon, Frantz. 1967. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press.

Francis, Daniel. 2011. National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Frick, John W. 2012. Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the American Stage and Screen. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.

Frost, Karolyn Smardz. 2007. I’ve Got A Home in Glory Land: A Lost Tale of the Underground Railroad. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Garber, Marjorie. 1992. Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing & Cultural Anxiety. New York and London: Routledge.

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Glenn, Susan. 2000. Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Hall, Stuart, ed. 1997. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage Publications.

Hardy, Dominic. 2007. “Historical Ironies of Henri Julien (1852- 1908): Researching Identity and Graphic Satire Across Languages in Québec.” Working Papers on Design 2: 1-25.

Harney, Robert F., ed. 1985. Gathering Place: Peoples and Neighbourhoods of Toronto, 1834-1945. Toronto: Multicultural History Society of Ontario.

Harrison-Kahan, Lori. 2011. The White Negress: Literature, Minstrelsy, and the Black-Jewish Imaginary. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. 1993. Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church 1880-1920. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hochman, Barbara. 2011. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Reading Revolution: Race, Literacy, Childhood, and Fiction, 1851-1911. University of Massachusetts Press: Amherst and Boston.

Howard, Philip S.S. 2017. “Timeline of Canadian Blackface Incidents.” Retrieved from: https://mcgill.ca/aapr/files/aapr/blackface-timeline.pdf

Johnson, Stephen. 1999. “Uncle Tom and the Minstrels: Seeing Black and White on Stage in Canada West prior to the American Civil War.” In (Post)Colonial Stages: Critical & Creative Views on Drama, Theatre & Performance, ed. Helen Gilbert, 55-63. Coventry: Dangaroo Press.

Johnson, Stephen. 2012. Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy. Amherst and Boston: University of Massachusetts Press.

Kibler, Alison M. 1999. Rank Ladies: Gender and Cultural Hierarchy in American Vaudeville. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Lenton-Young, Gerald. 1990. “Variety Theatre.” In Early Stages: Theatre in Ontario 1800-1914, ed.  Ann Saddlemyer, 166-213. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lhamon, W.T., Jr. 1998. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mahar, William J. 1999. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. 2010. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Meer, Sarah. 2005. Uncle Tom Mania: Slavery, Minstrelsy & Transatlantic Culture in the 1850s. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.

Morgan, Jo-Ann. 2007. Uncle Tom’s Cabin as Visual Culture. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.

Nicholas, Jane. “Gendering the Jubilee: Gender and Modernity in the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation Celebrations, 1927.The Canadian Historical Review, 90.2 (2009): 247-274.

Nicks, Joan and Jeannette Sloniowski. 2010. “Entertaining Niagara Falls, Ontario: Minstrel Shows, Theatres, and Popular Pleasures.” In Covering Niagara: Studies in Local Popular Culture, ed. Joan Nicks and Barry Keith Grant, 285-310. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Nowatzki, Robert. 2010. Representing African Americans in Transatlantic Abolitionism and Blackface Minstrelsy. Louisiana: Louisiana State Press.

Pickering, Michael. 2008. Blackface Minstrelsy in Britain. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing.

Roediger, David R. 2007. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London and New York: Verso.

Rogin, Micheal. 1996. Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sammond, Nicholas. 2015. Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Saxton, Alexander. 1990. The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. London and New York: Verso.

Smith, Shawn Michelle. 1999. American Archives: Gender, Race, and Class in Visual Culture. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

______. 2004. Photography on the Color Line: W.E.B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture. Durham & London: Duke University Press.

Springhall, John. 2008. The Genesis of Mass Culture: Show Business Live in America, 1840 to 1940. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Staples, Shirley. 1984. Male-Female Comedy Teams in American Vaudeville 1865-1932. Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press.

Starkey, Brando Simeo. 2015. In Defense of Uncle Tom: Why Blacks Must Police Racial Loyalty. New York: Cambridge.

Strausbaugh, John. 2006. Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture. London: Penguin Books.

Taylor, Yuval and Jake Austen. 2012. Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Thompson, Cheryl. 2015. “Cultivating Narratives of Race, Faith, and Community: The Dawn of Tomorrow, 1923–1971.” Canadian Journal of History 50 (1), 30-67.

______. 2015. “I’s in Town, Honey’: Reading Aunt Jemima Advertising in Canadian Print Media, 1919 to 1962.Journal of Canadian Studies 49 (1), 205-37. https://doi.org/10.3138/jcs.49.1.205

______. 2018. “Locating ‘Dixie’ in Newspaper Discourse and Theatrical Performance in Toronto, 1880s to 1920s.” Canadian Review of American Studies, published online March 8, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3138/cras.2017.032.

______. 2018. “Remembering Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In The Ward Uncovered: The Archeology of Everyday Life, eds. Michael McClelland, Holly Martelle, Tatum Taylor and John Lorinc, 156-162. Toronto: Coach House Books/Alana Wilcox.

______. 2019. Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture. Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier Press.

Toll, Robert C. 1974. Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Toney, Jared G. 2010. “Locating Diaspora: Afro-Caribbean Narratives of Migration and Settlement in Toronto, 1914-1929.” Urban History Review 38 (2): 75-87.

Winks, Robin. 1997 [1971]. The Blacks in Canada: A History. 2nd ed. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

First Edition Photobook Award, 2018 Award Winners

The Photography Studies program at Ryerson University together with Ryerson University Library & Archives is pleased to announce the 2018 recipients of the First Edition Photobook Award:

Book Award Recipients

After Grapefruit, Clea Christakos-Gee
Untitled, Raelene Giffin
In Nocte, Rafaela Conde
In the Water, Lisa McElroy
9869518588, Heather Rattray
Home and Glory, Kalen Huxhan
It’s Good Once You Get There, Hayley Wilsdon

Honourable mentions:

Surface Study, Shaw Quan
Less than 5%, Taya Hampartzoomian
In and of Itself, Lauren Armstrong
Come over sometimes and Other Messages Received and Sent, Leyla Godfrey

After Grapefruit, by Clea Christakos-Gee.
Untitled, by Raelene Giffin.
In Nocte, by Rafaele Conde.
Into the Water, by Lisa McElroy
9869518588, by Heather Rattray 
Home and Glory, by Kalen Huxhan.
It’s Good Once You Get There, by Hayley Wilsdon.

About the Award

As part of MPS507, a 3rd year Ryerson University Image Arts class in The Photographic Book, students conceive of, and create their own photobook. This is, in part, related to work that has been completed in the co-requisite class, MPS506 – Photographic Production. These are both required courses for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Image Arts) Photography Studies Option. Each year, the Library purchases the top photobooks in the class from the creator, as judged by the Special Collections Librarian, Alison Skyrme, and a special invited guest panel (this year Professor Don Snyder, Instructor and Artist Robyn Cumming, and Assistant Professor Dr. Karla McManus). The books are judged at the First Edition Photobook Show – an exhibition of the photobooks at the end of the semester. For evaluation, particular attention is paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The library catalogues each book, and houses them in the Special Collections department, where they will be available for students and researchers. An exhibition will be held in November to highlight the 2018 winners.

History

The First Edition Photobook Award was established in 2015 by Image Arts instructor Christopher Manson and the Ryerson Library to honour 3rd-year photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides an incentive for students to achieve the early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in the Library collection.

Previous Award Recipients

The following 2017 award winners were presented with a certificate during the Image Arts Awards Night, November 2017: Adrian Walton-Cordeiro, Ailene Devries, Fehn Foss, Julia Garnet, Feline Gerhardt, Warren Rynkun.

For more information contact: Alison Skyrme.

This year’s books, as well as winners from past years, will be on display in the Hallway exhibition cabinets in front of Archives and Special Collections between November 19, 2019 and January 15, 2019.

2018 Panel

This year we were fortunate to have a judges panel that included Professor Don Snyder, Instructor Robyn Cumming, and Dr. Karla McManus.

Robyn Cumming is a Toronto-based artist and educator. Prior to Ryerson she taught at OCADU and in the Art and Art History Program at U of T/Sheridan. Her current work focuses on representation and accumulation with a recent emphasis on historical images gleaned from Ebay. Robyn was long listed for the 2014 Aimia Photography Prize and is represented by Erin Stump Projects in Toronto. She has a BFA (Honours) from Ryerson University and an MFA from York University.
Karla McManus is an art historian who specializes in the study of photography and the environmental imaginary. Her writing and research focuses on how historic and contemporary concerns, from wildlife conservation, to environmental disasters, to anxiety about the future, are visualized photographically. She received her PhD from Concordia University in 2015 and was a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow in Art History and Art Conservation at Queen’s University from 2015-2017.
Don Snyder has an extensive background in photographic history and curation. Before joining the Ryerson faculty, he held an appointment as Curator of Photography at the Addison Gallery of American Art, where he originated the museum’s photography exhibition program. At Ryerson, he established the Image Arts (IMA) Gallery at 80 Spadina Avenue, and was instrumental in the founding of Function, the School’s annual publication of student work, essays and interviews. He has taught in the York-Ryerson Communication and Culture program, and in Ryerson’s graduate programs in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management as well as the Documentary Media MFA program. Particular interests are critical directions in photography and documentary practice during the past decade.

New Exhibition: Canada 150, Picturing the Canadian Landscape

Canada 150: Picturing the Canadian Landscape. Ryerson Library Archives and Special Collections

The plains of the prairies, the forests of the interior, and the seascapes of the Atlantic and the Pacific have served as muses for Canadian artists and writers for centuries.

In Canada 150: Picturing the Canadian Landscape, photographs and ephemera of the Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection at Ryerson University showcase the ways in which the natural landscape has been an essential part of the identity and history of Canada.

Incorporating extraordinary cameras from the Heritage Camera Collection and the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection, and rare books from Ryerson University’s Special Collections, this exhibition reflects on the photographic, recreational, and artistic responses to Canada’s natural landscape by artists, enthusiasts and writers throughout the years.

Drop by the Archives and Special Collections Department, on the  4th floor of the Ryerson Library, to see the exhibition, curated by Image Arts students Bowie Fan, Gabriele Tai, Georgia Love, Justine Marasigan, and Lodoe Laura.

The 2017 First Edition Book Award Winners

Winners of the 2017 First Edition Book Award

Award Recipients

Adrian Walton-Cordeiro – Contesse De Bertren
Ailene Devries – Two Cities and a River
Fehn Foss – Remembering, Faring
Julia Garnet – Elements
Feline Gerhardt – About Mankind and the Attempt to Increase Significance
Warren Rynkun – The Yard

Honourable Mentions

Grayson Alabiso-Cahil – We’re not the first, and we won’t be the last
Rena Balmain-Matthews – Poems
Jana Beaton – Wallpaper Floorboards
April Beatson – Skate
Rebecca Bentolila and Natasha Serio – Yours and Mine

About the Award

As part of MPS507, a 3rd year Ryerson University Image Arts class in The Photographic Book, students are expected to conceive of and create their own photobook. This is, in part, related to work that has been completed in the co-requisite class, MPS506 – Photographic Production. These are both required courses for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Image Arts) Photography Studies Option. Each year, the Library purchases the top photobooks in the class, as judged by the Special Collections Librarian, Alison Skyrme, and a special invited guest (this year Robyn York of Anchorless Press). The library pays fair market value for each book, and commits to spending a maximum of $1000 per semester. The books are judged at the First Edition Photobook Show – an exhibition of the photobooks at the end of the semester. For evaluation, particular attention is paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The library catalogues each book, including a note about the award, and houses the books in Special Collections. Occasional exhibits are created to showcase the works.

History

The First Edition Photobook Award was established in 2015 by Image Arts instructor Christopher Manson and the Ryerson Library to honour 3rd year photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides incentive for them to achieve early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in our collection.

Previous Award Recipients

The following 2016 award winners were presented with a certificate during the Image Arts Awards Night, November 19th, 2016: Andrea Chartrand, Kaya Kelley, Mina Markovic, Terence Reeves, Gabriel Steele, Alia Youssef.

2017 Award Winners

Warren Rynkun – The Yard (inside spread)
Fehn Foss – Remembering, Faring
Fehn Foss – Remembering, Faring
Julia Garnet – Elements
Ailene Devries – Two Cities and a River
Adrian Walton-Cordeiro: Contesse De Bertren
Feline Gerhardt – About Mankind and the Attempt to Increase Significance
Feline Gerhardt – About Mankind and the Attempt to Increase Significance (inside spread)
Robyn York - Anchorless Press
Robyn York – Anchorless Press

Guest Judge

Robyn York is a photographer and book artist whose work explores collecting, memory loss, and impermanence of place. She runs Anchorless Press, an independent publishing company that works with emerging artists to publish photo-based artists’ books, and has self-published and assisted in the design and production of over a dozen artists’ books and novels.

It’s Preservation Week, do you know where your photos are?

ALA’s Preservation Week.

It’s Preservation Week, an initiative headed up by the American Library Association to raise awareness around the millions of artifacts in public collections that require special preservation attention. Photographs, films, videos, manuscripts, artworks and digital material can be invaluable cultural objects, containing unique information not found elsewhere. Many of these objects are in danger of becoming damaged or obsolete over time, and require more care than institutions can offer.

What we’re doing

Ryerson Library is doing its part by digitizing photographic and film materials that are degrading, including producing digital scans of the Canadian Architect photograph collection to make them accessible, and freezing the negatives to stop further damage to the original objects. Propaganda and documentary films from the Leniniana collection have also been digitized and are now accessible without having to run the fragile films through aging projectors.

What you can do

Closer to home, what happens to all those selfies you take? The likelihood is you’re not printing them (Some estimate that over 80% of all photographs taken now remain digital and are never printed out). The speed at which technology changes makes this is a cause for concern. Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google, noted at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the loss of our primarily digital culture due to obsolescence may create a “forgotten generation, or even a forgotten century”.

There are some simple steps you can take at home to protect your personal digital photos, videos and file:

  1. Don’t keep everything: every once in awhile, go through your images and select the most important memories to keep. Do you really need all those photos of your cat?
  2. Organize your stuff: use a file organization and file naming system that makes sense to you. This could be chronologically, by subject or a combination of those (ex. by year and then by event).
  3. Make several copies: store your important files in a few different places (on your desktop, on a portable hard-drive, DVD, or on cloud storage), and make sure at least one copy is physically in a different place. Be careful relying solely on third party providers, if a company goes out of business you might be out of luck!
  4. Save files in common formats: proprietary files such as raw image or specialized software formats are at a higher risk of becoming obsolete. Save important files in high-quality formats like PDF or TIFF.

For more information on preserving different file formats, see the Library of Congress Personal Archiving site for helpful tips.

Feeling old school?

Still taking polaroids? Do you have boxes of old family photographs in your closet? Or worse, one of these: 

Self-adhesive photo album
Self-adhesive photo album

For information on how to preserve them, see this Archives and Special Collections blog post from last summer about caring for your family photos.

Celebrate Preservation Week with us, back up your photos and videos!

Alison Skyrme
Special Collections Librarian

First Edition Book Award 2016 Award Winners

The Photography Studies program at Ryerson University together with Ryerson Archives & Special Collections is pleased to announce the 2016 recipients:

THE 2016 FIRST EDITION PHOTOBOOK AWARD

Book Award Recipients

Andrea Chartrand
Kaya Kelley
Mina Markovic
Terence Reeves
Gabriel Steele
Alia Youssef

Honourable Mentions

Jeffrey Christenson
Kelsey Danahy
Alexandra Demelo
Sophie Trecroce


"Save As" by Andrea Chartrand
“Save As” by Andrea Chartrand
"Dear Dad" by Kaya Kelley
“Dear Dad” by Kaya Kelley
"Komplikovani Identiteti" by Mina Markovic
“Komplikovani Identiteti” by Mina Markovic
"Looking Outside Looking In" by Terence Reeves
“Looking Outside Looking In” by Terence Reeves
Gabriel Steele
“Jackson” by Gabriel Steele
"Self-Portraits of my Family in our Backyard" by Alia Youssef
“Self-Portraits of my Family in our Backyard” by Alia Youssef

Award Statement

As part of MPS507, a 3rd year Ryerson University Image Arts class in The Photographic Book, students are expected to conceive of and create their own photobook. This is, in part, related to work that has been completed in the co-requisite class, MPS506 – Photographic Production. These are both required courses for the Bachelor of Fine Arts (Image Arts) Photography Studies Option. Each year, the Library purchases the top photobooks in the class, as judged by the professor, Christopher Manson, and the Special Collections Curatorial Specialist, Alison Skyrme. The library pays fair market value for each book, and commits to spending a maximum of $1000 per semester. The books are judged at the First Edition Photobook Show – an exhibition of the photobooks at the end of the semester. For evaluation, particular attention is paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The library catalogues each book, including a note about the award, and houses the books in Special Collections. Occasional exhibits are created to showcase the works.

History

The First Edition Photobook Award was established in 2015 to honour 3rd year photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides incentive for them to achieve early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in our collection.

Previous Award Recipients

The following 2015 award winners were presented with a certificate during the Image Arts Awards Night, November 19th, 2015: Lodoe-Laura Haines-Wangda, Emily Pleasance, Evan Hutchinson, Imogen Walis-Mayer, Rebecca Zynomirski, Kristina Smith, Lucy Lu.

For more information contact: Christopher Manson or Alison Skyrme.

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Ryerson Logo
Ryerson University Library & Archives logo

Special Collections: Celebrating 10 Years

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2015 marked the 10 year anniversary of Special Collections at the Ryerson University Library and Archives. It seems like a good time time to have a look back at where we came from, and where we are headed.

Kodak Canada Heritage Collection

The Special  Collections department at the Ryerson University Library was founded in 2005, with the acquisition of the Kodak Canada Corporate Archives and Heritage Collection after the Mount Dennis campus shut down. The collection includes the history of the company in Toronto since it’s arrival in 1900, and the contents of Kodak Museum that had recently opened at the Mount Dennis campus.

Small room with shelves of archival boxes, tables of albums and a computer workstation.
7th floor Special Collections

At that time, Special Collections occupied a small storage space on the 7th floor of the library, big enough for the two PPCM students working on the collection, but with no public research space.

By 2006, we’d moved to a larger space, and our collections had grown to include book collections, acquiring the Michael Mitchell collection and the Nicholas and Marilyn Graver collections. Students were able to visit the collection, and internships were created to process the large collections.

Graver
Office with many shelves containing albums, books and archival boxes. People moving boxes on carts.
2006: Moving in, a new space for Special Collections

Though safe and secure, the new space was difficult to access by researchers. This was solved in 2008, when a more permanent, accessible space was completed on the 4th floor of the library. The new space featured more storage, exhibition and display space, as well as a research area and student work station. A modest exhibition program was instituted, and researchers gained an accessible reading room to explore the growing collections. These included the Leniniana propaganda collection, the Lorne Shields Historical Photography Collection. We also integrated the library’s existing rare book collection, and the acquisition of the Canadian Architect Magazine collection was underway.

Lenin
canadianArchitect
Toronto
Research Area in Special Collections at the Ryerson Library
The current research area in Special Collections at the Ryerson Library

The future of Special Collections at Ryerson looks bright and includes an expansion of our space, and integrating with the Archives department, which will allow more accessibility to our researchers and more space for our collections.

We will continue to grow our collection, in line with our revised mandate to support teaching and research at Ryerson University.

Help us celebrate! Drop by to see a small selection of items from our most popular collections, now on display on the 4th floor of the Ryerson Library. For more information or to view the collections call or email to make an appointment.

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Location: 4th Floor, Ryerson Library, LIB404
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Phone: 416-979-5000 ext. 7027
Email: asc@ryerson.ca

The Top 8 Odd and Outstanding Artist’s Books in Ryerson’s Special Collections

Ryerson’s Special Collections is filled with all kinds of unique and unusual material. Here is our list of the top 8 odd and outstanding artist’s books you can find in our collection!

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  1. Scratch by Christian Boltanski

This thin artist’s book allegedly contains ten duotones of forbidden images. However, what the reader will see when browsing this book is a stiff book with five silver coloured pages. That’s because Boltanski has coated each image in a scratch-card like opaque substance. So, the only way to view the hidden images is to physically scratch off the surface of each page. In this way, the artist is making a statement about the responsibility of viewing images of disaster, forcing the reader to make a decision – either peek and look, or stare and wonder at what lies beneath the surface.

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  1. Cock Fight Dance by Sol LeWitt

Sol LeWitt was one of the artists spearheading the Conceptual movement in the 1960s. While he was most well-known for his painting, drawing and sculpture works, LeWitt also published multiple photographic artist’s books. This odd little book contains a photographic narrative of two roosters fighting. With a simple layout and premise, this book of photographs light-heartedly hints at dance and performance. Because the whole event is not completely recorded, LeWitt’s book suggests multiple readings and multiple endings.

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  1. See by Marcia Resnick

See by Marcia Resnick contains 34 black and white portraits. Each portrait shows the subject in the center of the frame in front of various landscapes. However, instead of looking at the camera, each subject has their back to us. This simple little book from 1975 can actually be read as a deeper exploration of looking and being look at, of seeing and being seen.

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  1. Rainbow in Your Hand by Masashi Kawamura

It won’t take long for you to read this book cover-to-cover, and it’s definitely one you’ll want to peruse again! At first, this artist’s book seems a bit underwhelming – each of its pages are completely identical with small coloured squares on each side of a black page. However, everything changes once the reader realizes it is actually a flipbook – and not a conventional flipbook either. Instead of creating an illusion of movement on the pages, this book creates a three-dimensional illusion. When this clever little book is flipped though, a rainbow appears in the space between the pages!

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  1. Hide by Fred Escher

This book is a great example of the type of unconventional book that was published by conceptual artists in the 1970s. The book contains black and white photographs, each of the artist hiding in plain sight. Part-performance, part-photography, the work Escher creates in this book shows the landscape and artist as merged, and can be seen to the reader as a sort of grown-up version of Where’s Waldo.

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  1. Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles

This collection of images firmly resides outside of the traditional form of artist’s book. Instead of bound pages, this work consists of 78 individual tarot cards. The deck from 1975 is the first known photographic tarot deck, and is one of the most collectible tarot card decks in the world. Using herself, as well as family and friends as models, the artist created the multicoloured photographic cards over the span of 5 years. A lot of skill and technique went into each image. There was no Photoshop at the time, so Nettles used darkroom tricks to create special effects in the images – collaged photographs, multi-layered images and hand-drawn symbols are some of the processes she employed.

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  1. Octogonal Houses of Maine by Carol-Lynn Rössel Waugh

This curious book is by far the smallest in the collection – in fact it measures just 2 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters! The book chronicles the history of the eight-sided homes in the state of Maine. The author appears to have also written multiple books on the subject of teddy bears, and is a self-proclaimed “teddy bear artist”. In addition to being the smallest book in our collection, we consider it to be one of the oddest little gems in the stacks!

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  1. Every Building on the Sunset Strip by Ed Ruscha

This rare and fragile artist’s book is one of the most iconic to come out of the 1970s. For Every Building on the Sunset Strip, the artist mounted a motorized camera to the back of a truck, photographing every building he passed. Ruscha then created a bound accordion-style book from one continuous folding strip that extends approximately 25 feet. Though now the book might make us think of Google Street View, the book revealed at the time a new form of topographical map-making study. Ruscha is known for spearheading a new genre of artist’s book, favouring a cheap and conceptual approach over the typical livre d’artiste of the day. Ryerson’s Special Collections is also home to various other original seminal Ruscha books, including Business Cards, Royal Road Test and Crackers.

Contact us to come have a look at these odd and outstanding artist’s books!

Happy Holidays from Ryerson Library Archives and Special Collections

As the Holiday season approachs, Ryerson students are making their final mighty push to get assignments done and exams written before the winter break.

Featured from our collections are some Holiday and Winter scenes from around campus and beyond for a little light viewing during this busy time of year.

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Quadrangle in the Snow (RG 395.121.01.216)
Black and white photograph of young men and women playing a hockey style game with brooms on an ice rink
Howard Kerr Hall, ca. 1965, decorated for the holidays. (RG 95.1.41.53.01)
3 storey academic building at night with red, green and white twinkle lights decorating the outside
Ryerson Students participating in a massive broomball tournament in the Quad. Tournament was part of Ryerson’s Winter Carnival held in January 1969. Part of the Quad was turned into the ice rink. (RG 95.1.41.53.01)
(2009.002.2883.004)
Canadian Architect photograph file “Country Homes in Winter” (2009.002.2883.004)
1950s
Holiday Card from the 1950s.
Ryerson Snoball advertisement (RG 95.1.21.34.01)

A reminder that the Library, and the University as a whole, will be closed from Thursday December 24th, until Wednesday January 6th, reopening on Thursday January 7th. We wish you a safe and happy holiday season and look forward to seeing you in the New Year!

First Edition Book Award 2015

Exhibition of the winning 2015 books on now

First Edition Book Award 2015

We are thrilled to announce that 2015 marks the first annual awarding of the First Edition Book Awards, sponsored by Ryerson University Library Special Collections. The awardees this year are  Evan Hutchinson, Lodoe Laura, Lucy Lu, Emily Pleasance, Kristina Smith, Imogen Wallis-Mayer, and Rebecca Zynomirski. Their books are currently on display in Special Collections, on the 4th floor of the Ryerson University Library on Gould Street.

As part of MPS507, a required 3rd year Image Arts class in The Photographic Book at Ryerson, students are to conceive of and create their own photobook featuring their original work.

Double page spread with a portrait of a woman and text telling her story
Stateless, by Lodoe Laura, foreward by Tashi Wangdi, 2014. Lodoe Laura’s first photo book, Stateless, attempts to tackle the notion of identity of the stateless Tibetans in Northern India.

Two page spread of a photo book, black and white abstract photo on right hand page and white hard cover book with black numbers on the cover.
43.7000 79.4000, by Evan Hutchinson, 2014. Departing from straight photography to more of a multi media approach, Hutchinson’s photos discuss and address the idea of identification, perception and self-reflection. Hutchinson strive to challenge the viewer’s perspective, allowing them to question what they are seeing and how they define what they are observing.

Double page spread, beach scene with blue sky and a woman in a bathing suit holding an elaborate cocktail and cover of the book, a photographs of the water in a blue swimming pool
Sheila’s Tropical Vacation, by Rebecca Zynormirski, 2014 “This project began with the realization that I had never gone on a tropical vacation before. I felt strongly like I had experienced one but the truth was, the closest I had gotten to this experience was though images. Images found in magazines and through friends. I wanted to experience this first hand but I didn’t have the resources. Instead, I created a fictional lady named Sheila who I would send off to experience the Tropical Vacation that I was familiar with. Using appropriated familiar Tropical Vacation imagery I created backdrops which allowed me to construct a new reality, one that I had experienced though the repetitive, monotonous imagery that I often saw in magazines and on the Internet. I played the role of Sheila performing in front of these tableaus combining truth and fiction, narrative and reality.” –Page 4.

Cover and spine of a book entitled Memories of Nowhere and double page spread with two cyan photographs, a portrait of a shirtless man wearing an animal mask.
Memories of Nowhere, by Lucy Lu, 2014 There is one distant set of images in mind from my childhood, perhaps it is my first memory, or perhaps it isn’t one at all. It had become so obscured that sometimes I am convinced that it’s actually a dream I’m remembering all along. It is strange to consider how the mind reconstructs and recalls the past, whether it is actualized history or fleeting narratives of the subconscious.” — page 66.

The Library will purchase the top five books in the class each year, as judged by the professor, Christopher Manson, and the Special Collections Curatorial Specialist, Alison Skyrme. The books are judged at an exhibition of the books at the end of the semester. For evaluation, particular attention will be paid to design, sequencing, and integration of images and text. The books are catalogued and held in Special Collections. They are available for reference by students and the public for research.

The Award was established to honour Ryerson photography students who have made exceptional achievements in photobook production. It provides incentive for them to achieve early recognition that will have a lasting legacy in our collection.

Double page spread, 2 black and white photos of abstract figure studies
An Ambiguous Form, by Imogen Wallis-Mayer, 2014 “In this series of photographs of the female body has been redefined; it has been contorted, lit, and manipulated to form juxtaposing images ranging from vast rounded landscapes to detailed macroscopic views. Both techniques force the viewer to disregard their previous understanding of the body as a physical structure, including the bones, flesh, and organs, of a person and instead observe the body as an ambiguous form, comprised of shadow and light, curves, and lines.”– cover page.

Open portfolio, title page reading My Relative LIfe , a small booklet titled My Relative Life The Archives, colour photograph of a family portrait projected on a backyard fence
My Relative Life: A Mapping of Memories, by Emily Pleasance, 2014
Emily Pleasance’s work explores themes of memory, time, identity, perception and the archive. Her introduction to art and art culture was primarily classical mediums such as paints, pastels, and sculpture. This background allows her to approach photography in a unique way. She recognizes light as the true medium of photography in the same way as paint is the truest form and medium in a painting. Having this type of awareness makes light itself her biggest visual inspiration.

Hardcover book, abstract orange background with the title Orillia and Double page spread, urban scene of a sidewalk, lawn and metal staircase on the left, cardboard box and garbage bags on the right
Orillia : A Photographic Exploration, By Kristina Smith, 2014 Orillia is a book documenting the smaller details of everyday scenes often unnoticed on routine journeys throughout the city. The photos lend a truthful eye to the place; mundane scenes with a quirky appeal that often go unnoticed. The interaction between the natural environment and urban developments are a common throughout. With over sixty photographs and captions the book offers an opportunity to pause and see banal everyday scenes in a different light.