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RYERSON IMAGE CENTRE

RIC RESEARCH CENTRE

Research Centre

Image caption: RIC Research Centre © Zinnia Naqvi, Ryerson Image Centre

 

The RIC’s Research Centre, located on the second floor above the galleries at 33 Gould Street, supports scholarly activities by students, faculty, curators, visiting artists and critical writers in an environment that maintains an extensive range of collections material. Holdings include:

 

  • The longstanding and continuously evolving fine art Photographs Collection, begun in 1969, which provides an overview of the history of photography through access to original works by significant photographers from the mid-nineteenth century to the present.  
  • The Black Star Collection, a major photojournalistic holding of 292,000 black and white photographs covering personalities, events and conflicts of the twentieth century, acquired in 2005, is the source material for numerous research projects, exhibitions and publications.
  • The contextually rich archives of Wendy Snyder MacNeil, well known for her cumulative portrait studies in platinum-palladium; photojournalist Werner Wolff, a key contributor to the Black Star agency in New York for several decades; and Jo Spence, the U.K.-based feminist and activist photographer, increase the breadth of the Centre’s offerings.

 

Related resources in the form of artist files, journals and a rare books collection provide further support material. The Research Centre is staffed with professionals who are available to researchers for consultation. An accessible database is provided in aid of focused collections searches.

The RIC, though it owns the works in its collections, does not own copyright to all objects. Presently, we are not engaged in licensing image use or in providing reproductions. If you require photographs for research or dissertation purposes please contact the RIC at riccollections@ryerson.ca for further information.

The Research Centre is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 5pm. For information on access to the collection, please contact riccollections@ryerson.ca or 416.979.5000 x.2376.

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COLLECTIONS

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The Photographs Collection

Begun in 1969, the photographs held by the Research Centre comprise a teaching and research collection unique in Canada. This remarkable resource, currently numbering some 2,700 photographs, offers researchers the vital experience of studying original fine prints by photographers of international status. It includes historical works by such seminal figures as Francis Frith, Eugène Atget, André Kertész, Brassaï, Edward Weston, Berenice Abbott, Andreas Feininger and W. Eugene Smith, as well as contemporary work by Eldon Garnet, Clara Gutsche, Gabor Szilasi, Ruth Kaplan, and Edward Burtynsky, among many more. The Centre’s longstanding culture of collecting and connoisseurship provided the physical and intellectual infrastructure that led to the successful acquisition in 2005 of the Black Star Collection for Ryerson University. Further recent acquisitions include the complete archives of noted photographer and filmmaker, Wendy Snyder MacNeil, Black Star photographer Werner Wolff and British feminist artist, Jo Spence.



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The Black Star Collection

Assembled over a period of eighty years at the Black Star photo agency in New York City, the photographs in the Black Star Collection describe the personalities, events and conflicts of the twentieth century. In 2005, the Black Star Collection was gifted to Ryerson University by an anonymous donor. In receiving this gift, the university has been entrusted with preserving these photographs and making them accessible to the public through exhibition and publication.

The Black Star Collection at Ryerson University includes more than a quarter of a million photographs created by more than 6,000 different image-makers, many of them acknowledged as individuals who helped define picture journalism as it evolved throughout the twentieth century. Working collaboratively in New York City with the founders and editors of weekly magazines, including Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post, these photographers established the norms of the published photo-essay. When picture magazines decreased in number, and as clients shifted first to colour and then to digital imagery, the black and white component of the agency’s operations found itself in less commercial demand. At the same time, however, it was assuming increasing importance as an historical archive and visual record, and as a collection of unanticipated artistic significance.



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Photographer Archives

The Wendy Snyder MacNeil Archive

Wendy Snyder MacNeil is well known for her cumulative portrait studies in platinum-palladium and for her groundbreaking role in incorporating vernacular imagery into her artistic production. The Ryerson Image Centre holds a wide variety of her preparatory work and final exhibition prints, as well as her negatives, book maquettes and research notes. Wendy Snyder MacNeil’s work is held by major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University. It has appeared in numerous prominent publications, including The Snapshot  (Aperture), Naomi Rosenblum’s A History of Women Photographers (Abbeville Press), and From Dry Plate to Digital: An American Century of Photography (Hallmark/Abrams). She taught for many years at the Rhode Island School of Design. Among her students are the noted photographers, Wendy Ewald and Francesca Woodman.



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The Jo Spence Archive

Jo Spence (1934-1992), is a pivotal figure in the establishment of a feminist post-modern discourse and photographic practice that opposed the notion of photography’s presence as high art in the museum and art marketplace contexts. Working in London in the 1970s and 1980s as a community-based social justice activist using photography and text as tools for societal change, she challenged the formalist preoccupations of mainstream photographic practice and emphasized a return to documentary. Among her many and diverse projects, she is particularly well known for politicized representations of herself in her struggle with cancer, in which she refuses to passively accept the conventions of medical authority and asserts the validity of alternative therapies. The Ryerson Image Centre holds a broad range of her research and preparatory materials, her final presentation pieces, her writings and correspondence, and videotapes of interviews and other programs dealing with her work. We are grateful to her long-time partner and collaborator, Terry Dennett, for his generosity in entrusting us with her archive.



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Werner Wolff Archive

Werner Wolff (1911-2002), left Nazi Germany for New York in 1936, and found work in the darkroom of the newly formed Pix photo agency. He later joined the American army, and photographed for Yank magazine, where his work was regularly published. With the defeat of Germany, he was one of the first to photograph “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s mountain retreat. As part of his coverage he returned to Mannheim, his birthplace, and developed a very personal photo-essay that surveyed the war’s impact on the city. Returning to New York, he joined the Black Star agency, where he was an important conduit for other European photographers establishing themselves anew. Werner Woolf worked for Black Star for several decades, and was one of its key contributors. He traveled with President Eisenhower to thirteen countries, and in 1963, accompanied President Kennedy on his European tour. The Werner Wolff Archive contains negatives, contact sheets, photographs, transparencies, publication information, correspondence and other remarkable ephemera. We are grateful to Werner’s son, Steven Wolff, for his generous gift of the Archive to the Ryerson Image Centre.



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The Life Magazine Collection

A popular weekly that began publishing in 1936, Life magazine was read by millions of North Americans who looked to picture magazines for illustrated news and entertainment. In 1972, the magazine became a monthly, which focused on broader entertainment-based themes and special issues. In 2011, a complete run of unbound issues of Life Magazine was gifted to the Ryerson Image Centre. Its inclusion in the research centre provides a contextual resource for our photojournalistic holdings.

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