CUAG’s collection currently includes approximately 3500 photographs. It is largely contemporary Canadian in content, but it also features intriguing pockets of photographs documenting the history and development of the medium. Prior to the gallery’s founding in 1992, the collection focused primarily on prints and drawings, and included very few photographs. The acquisition of photographs began in earnest in the mid-1990s when Lorraine Monk, longtime head of National Film Board of Canada Stills Division (which evolved into the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography), donated her collection of Canadian photographs from the 1960s and 1970s by artists such as Michel Lambeth, John Reeves, John Max, and Nina Raginsky.
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The gallery’s photography collection has since grown exponentially, and largely by donation. The collection includes small but significant bodies of work by leading Canadian photographers such as Lynne Cohen, Geoffrey James, Evergon, Robert Bourdeau, Jocelyne Alloucherie, and Marlene Creates. In addition, it has in-depth holdings of numerous photographers, among them Stephen Livick, Lorraine Gilbert, Frank Pimental, Michael Schreier, Simeon Posen, Eldon Garnet, Phil Bergerson, Bruce Gilden, Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge, and David Hlynsky.
This focus on the contemporary is balanced by a sizeable body of historic images. Of note are a range of nineteenth-century images such as tintypes, ambrotypes, and daguerrotypes, a group of 31 late-nineteenth-century stereoscopic views of Canadian cities, and a selection of photogravures by Steichen, Steiglitz, Strand and other luminaries, published in Camera Work and Aperture in the early 1900s. After the successful presentation at CUAG of the touring exhibition Pictorialism into Modernism: The Clarence H. White School of Photography, the Coville Photographic Art Foundation donated individual prints by André Kertész, Harold Edgerton, Charles Sheeler, and Aaron Siskind; their gift also included a vintage gelatin silver print (1908) of “Little Orphan Annie,” one of Lewis Hine’s most famous photographs.