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RYERSON IMAGE CENTRE

Arthur S. Goss: Works and Days
May 1 - June 2 and June 19 - August 25, 2013
Curated by Blake Fitzpatrick, John Bentley Mays
University Gallery

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Arthur S. Goss: Works and Days
Photograph Credit: Arthur S. Goss, Bloor Street Viaduct Photographs, General View – Railway Tracks, October 18, 1912. City of Toronto Archives, series 372, sub-series 10, item 48.

During his long tenure as Toronto’s official photographer (1911-1940), Arthur S. Goss created thousands of images that illustrate in fine detail the Victorian city’s ambitious, but often difficult, re-invention of itself as a modern Canadian metropolis. He has long been best known for his eloquent pictures of slums, destitute immigrants, and other dark elements of this historical passage. This exhibition, presented in collaboration with the City of Toronto Archives, aims to reveal a less widely heralded aspect of Goss’s professional work, but one that occupied his time and creative energy more fully than any other: the routinized production of visual documents for the use of various city departments and agencies.

Early in the fashioning of this display, our curiosity was aroused by these images, which have so far been largely unfamiliar to the public. We became interested in what they can tell us about the practice of a photographer embedded in, and beholden to, an urban bureaucracy early in the twentieth century. This practice, the images suggest, was informed by the instrumental and disinterested rationality expected of employees in the public institutions created by political and social modernity.

His self-effacing and matter-of-fact approach suggests to the viewer that what is visible to the naked eye is all that there is to see. However, this literalness actually obscures the invisible but pervasive presence of an institutional authority directing these photographs. By featuring and deliberately highlighting Goss’s quotidian, prosaic output, in contrast to his more humanistic imagery of unfortunate city-dwellers, we hope to encourage a fresh appraisal of civic photography, its urgencies and ideologies, in Toronto early in the last century, and a rethinking of bureaucratic image-making everywhere.

Guest Curators:

Blake Fitzpatrick PhD, is a professor and the graduate program director of the Documentary Media (MFA) program at Ryerson University. An active photographer, curator, and writer, his research interests include the photographic representation of the nuclear era, visual responses to contemporary militarism, and the post-Cold War mobility of the Berlin Wall. He has exhibited his work in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and the United States and his recent curatorial initiatives include War at a Distance, Disaster Topographics, and The Atomic Photographers Guild: Visibility and Invisibility in the Nuclear Era. His writing and visual work have appeared in Ciel Variable, Public, Topia, History of Photography, and FUSE.

Listen to an interview featuring Guest Curator Blake Fitzpatrick about the Arthur S. Goss: Works and Days exhibition on CBC Metro Morning.

John Bentley Mays is an award-winning Toronto writer on contemporary architecture and visual art, and the author of several books. He was the art critic for The Globe and Mail for almost two decades, and has also been the cultural correspondent at large for the National Post. He is currently an architecture critic for The Globe and Mail. His essays and reviews have appeared in Azure, Canadian Architect, Canadian Art, International Architecture and Design, Ciel Variable, and other cultural journals. Mays’ several prizes for writing include the National Newspaper Award for criticism, the Ontario Historical Society’s Joseph Brant award, and the National Magazine Award Foundation’s President’s Medal, Canada’s highest award for magazine journalism. Of Mays’ books, two have been national best-sellers: In the Jaws of the Black Dogs: A Memoir of Depression and Power in the Blood: Land, Memory, and a Southern Family.

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