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Banner: Framing Canada: A Photographic Memory

Amateur Photography

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Photograph of a man and a woman, each with a camera, sitting on a rock on the shore of a lake with their backs to the photographer, Sparrow Lake, Ontario, 1916Larger image

Unidentifed couple
Sparrow Lake, Ontario, 1916
Photographer: Albert Van
PA-126674 (source)

Amateur photographers have been leaders in the development of Canadian photography; we are indebted to them for a number of pioneering innovations, including snapshots, colour photographs, photographic art and miniature cameras. But what is "amateur" photography? It is, essentially, work created as a "labour of love," and not intended for commercial use. For most amateurs, photography was a hobby, not a tool.

The subjects of amateur photography in Canada date from a time when immigrants and certain educated travellers had learned early photographic techniques, to a more recent era when thousands of amateurs, armed with automatic cameras and rolls of film, chased down their images. The camera can be seen as an instrument of democratization that united Canadians from all social classes, as across the country, ordinary people, doctors, scientists and stockholders -- almost all of whom were novices -- joined photography clubs. Together, these enthusiasts discussed the theoretical and practical aspects of an art form that allowed them to reproduce everything that caught their eyes, down to the most minute detail. Amateurs spontaneously photographed almost everything they saw, but most of their subjects were drawn from what surrounded them: their families and workplaces, or landscapes such as winter scenes.

It would be difficult to compile an exhaustive list of amateur photographers in Canada, but it is possible to mention the names of some whose work is preserved at Library and Archives Canada. These include the very first amateur in Canada, Pierre Gaspard Gustave Joly de Lotbinière (1798-1865); Alexander Henderson; Francis Claudet; H.J. Cundall; Captain James Peters; Robert Reford; Henry J. Woodside; May and James Ballantyne; A.M. Ross; John Boyd; Sydney Carter; Beresford B. Pinkerton; William Hyde; Mary Gunterman; A.P. Low; Madge Macbeth; A. Van; Brodie Whitelaw; Bruce Metcalfe; John Vanderpant; Clifford M. Johnston; Edith Bethune; John Helders; J.K. Hodges; John Morris; Arthur H. Tweedle; James Crookall; and Leonard Davis.

Whether they depict the rustic intimacy of a Saskatchewan farm, the majestic Rockies as seen by tourists, joyous reunions of friends, an 1880s country fair or labourers on a work break, these amateur photographs revive moments too long ignored and constitute valuable artistic evidence of Canadian history.

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The Work of John Boyd

Photograph of seven boys diving off a pier, Sarnia, Ontario, 1909

City Scenes

Photograph, taken from under a visible overhang, of the exteriors of several buildings, Vancouver, British Columbia, circa 1929

Quiet Recreations

Photograph of a group of eight people, mostly women, some with parasols, posing for a picture during a hike along a railroad track, near Montfort, Quebec, 1928

Amateur Portraiture

Photograph of a smiling girl sitting on a rock beside a lake, while her dog gives her a kiss, Bala, Ontario, 1933

The Serious Amateur

Photograph, entitled CREATIONS OF MAN, of the exterior of an odd-shaped building as seen from below looking up at an angle, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1934
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