11 gorgeous shots from the eclectic, eccentric Tanenbaum photography collection
Since the early 1970s, Toronto philanthropists Carole and Howard Tanenbaum have been building one of the most eclectic and historically significant private photography collections in Canada. Carole’s father, Max Granick, was one of New York City’s most renowned custom framers, attracting accomplished artists from across the United States. His passion inspired Howard, who would search for elaborately encased 19-century daguerreotypes at antique shows and marvel at the beauty of their frames. “I loved the cases as an art form in and of themselves,” says Howard.
Eventually, the Tanenbaums shifted their focus to what was inside the frames. Their collection started with early daguerreotypes from the mid-1800s—the earliest form of photography, developed on a silver-coated copper plate—and expanded to include contemporary masters alongside the pioneers. The collection is on display at the Ryerson Image Centre until April 7. Here, Howard and Carole Tanenbaum tell the stories behind some of their favourite photos.
The collector David Feigenbaum had one of the largest private daguerreotype collections in the world. After his death, the Tanenbaums acquired this piece, along with 21 other daguerreotypes by Boston photography firm Southworth and Hawes, at a sale. Created in the 1850s, this portrait was originally black and white, then partially hand-coloured, giving its subject an ashen, otherworldly glow. Her brooch is an example of photography as jewellery—a trend among the era’s upper class—and with it, the image becomes a photograph within a photograph. “It’s the Mona Lisa of the daguerreotypes,” says Carole.
Because daguerreotypes often required up to 30 minutes of exposure, their subjects had to keep still while the image was being taken. When photographing children, it was common practice for their nannies to prop them up. The nannies were usually left out of the frame or covered up, but this 1850s portrait is a rare exception and one of very few instances of black female representation in daguerreotype photography.
Toward the end of the 19th century, William Notman was Canada’s most renowned photographer. At the time, photography was largely confined to the studio, but Notman ventured outside to capture the world around him, becoming one of the first documentary photographers. This shot of a shipyard in Montreal is typical of Notman’s work, which often focussed on larger-than-life city and landscapes. Today, his influence can be seen in industrial compositions by documentary photographers such as Edward Burtynsky.
Some of the collection’s most remarkable black-and-white photographs come from Ernest J. Bellocq’s Storyville Portraits, named after the early-1900s New Orleans red-light district. This series, which was published from negatives found in Bellocq’s desk after he fell down a flight of stairs and died in 1949, showcases the inner lives of the era’s sex workers. He captured the humanity of his subjects instead of sexualizing them, often shooting them in their own homes. Bellocq was also careful about guarding their identities, even going so far as to scratch their faces out of his negatives or insist his nude subjects wear masks.
Barbara Morgan—best remembered for co-founding Aperture, one of the earliest photography magazines—was a painter until 1935, when the birth of her child prompted her switch to the quicker and more efficient medium of photography. It gave her new ways to explore her fascination with human movement, gesture, and expression. Eventually, her focus became dance photography. She used double exposure to capture the jumps and twirls, as seen here.
In the early 1900s, Lewis Hine used his series of newsboy photographs in New York City to demonstrate the human labour that goes into everyday products. His photographs of children helped push through child labour laws in the following years.
This 19th-century shot by French photographer Félix Bonfils, titled “Guardian of the Tomb of Kings and His Family,” was taken in East Jerusalem. Bonfils was one of the first photographers to bring images from the Middle East back to the western world.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark visited the circuses of India and Mexico, whose performers were often social outcasts. This photo, taken at the Vazquez Brothers Circus in Mexico City in 1997, was shot in black and white to diminish the spectacle and highlight the humanity of her subjects.
Chilean-Canadian photographer Rafael Goldchain is one of the artists in their collection that the Tanenbaums know personally. Working as a corporate art consultant, Carole had the opportunity to promote photographers like Goldchain by pairing them with clients and agents. In this 1986 portrait, titled “A Tehuantepec Maiden,” Goldchain captures the vibrancy of the Tehuantepec region of Mexico, which is famous for its traditional floral dresses (a style adopted by Frida Kahlo).
For his 2006 series Open See, photographer Jim Goldberg documented the often-harrowing journeys of refugees, immigrants and victims of human trafficking. These trafficked girls were photographed in Ukraine.
The Tanenbaums also helped foster Edward Burtynsky’s career. Before this year’s epoch-defining Anthropocene, Burtynsky published this series, shot in 2005, on industrialization in China. This image of a ship being built was shot at Qili Port in China’s Zhejiang Province.