One of the first museums to recognize photography as an art form, the National Gallery of Canada began collecting photographs in 1967 under Director Jean Sutherland Boggs and James Borcoman, later named Curator of Photographs. Now, with almost 22,000 photographs covering the entire history of photography, this international collection is ranked among the finest.
The Photographs Collection contains outstanding examples of both 19th and 20th century photography, including work by widely recognized photographers as well as emerging artists. It contains important holdings by early practitioners: William Henry Fox Talbot, one of photography’s inventors; David Octavius Hill, among the first trained artists to adopt the medium; Charles Nègre, who photographed Parisian workers and provincial French architecture; Auguste Salzmann, who documented Jerusalem’s ancient ruins; and Julia Margaret Cameron and Peter Henry Emerson, who helped to establish British photography as art.
The National Gallery owns one of the major North American collections of works by French photographer Eugène Atget, noted for his nostalgic views of Paris. Equally significant are its works by August Sander from his epic series illustrating German social strata, and the evocative Depression-era images of American Walker Evans.
Works by Americans Edward Weston, Aaron Siskind and Canadian Margaret Watkins include rare examples showing the evolution of photography towards formalism and abstraction. Lisette Model and Diane Arbus reveal strongly personal views of the human condition. There are significant holdings by contemporary Canadian photographers Edward Burtynsky, Lynne Cohen, Dave Heath and Robert Bourdeau, as well as by Americans Robert Frank and Gary Schneider.
The collection of Japanese photographs includes holdings by 19th-century photographer Kimbei Kusakabe and contemporary works by Eikoh Hosoe and Toshio Shibata, amongst others.
Photographs from the permanent collection are exhibited periodically in the gallery spaces shared with the Prints and Drawings collection and in Gallery C218a.