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Spotlight on the darkroom

February 7th, 2017

A new student exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre highlights recent AGO photography acquisitions.

Pamela Harris, Selena Tucktoo in darkroom, Taloyoak, 1973, gelatin silver print. Courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario, gift of Randall McLeod, 2012 © Pamela Harris

In 1972, American-Canadian photographer Pamela Harris visited ᑕᓗᕐᔪᐊᖅ (Taloyoak), Nunavut—then called Spence Bay, Northwest Territories—and noticed that while the people of Taloyoak took photographs, they had to send the negatives away to be developed. As Harris noted, “they should also have power over it, the power that comes from being able to do things oneself.” During her second visit to Taloyoak the following year, Harris secured the necessary materials and with the help of several members of the community, including photographers Selena Tucktoo, Theresa Quaqjuaq and Ootookee (Tookie) Takolik, she built a darkroom in the local women’s craft workshop.

The AGO’s extensive collection of photography holds works by these four photographers, along with related documents and correspondence in the Library’s Special Collections. A new exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC)—which opened on January 18 and closes February 26—highlights this community project, the work that went into it and the photographs that came out it. Created by graduate students of Ryerson University’s Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Program, under the instruction of Sophie Hackett, the AGO’s Curator of Photography, and Gaëlle Morel, the RIC’s Curator of Exhibitions, The Darkroom Project aims to tell a different story about the photographic representation of Indigenous peoples, Inuit women in particular.

We talked to participating student Alex Robichaud about the experience of working on The Darkroom Project.

AGO: What was your role in the project?
Alex: The class of 15 students was divided into an exhibition group, a publication group and a digital project group. The three groups worked on projects separately but corresponded to keep the exhibition, catalogue and website aligned. I was part of the exhibition group, whose role it was to research and develop the exhibition concept, design and texts.

AGO: Who did you consult to help you?
Alex: As a group of non-indigenous students, we knew it was important to talk with individuals and organizations affiliated with Inuit communities in Toronto and in Taloyoak. Katherine Minich [a faculty member of McMaster University’s Indigenous Studies Program] came to us through her connection to the Toronto Inuit Association, and given her area of study she showed interest in the photographs taken by the Inuit women photographers. She has been able to provide a greater social/historical context to the photographs and her knowledge of Inuit culture and world views has helped in understanding the photographs from a less euro-centric perspective. Given that our exhibition texts were completed by the time we met Katherine, we hope that her talk on February 8 will open up some of these topics not explicitly dealt with in the exhibition.

AGO: Does the darkroom still operate in Taloyoak?
Alex: No. The exhibition group was in contact with one of the Taloyoak photographers, Selena Tucktoo and as far as she is aware, the darkroom functioned for a short period of time after Pamela Harris left Taloyoak in 1973, but eventually closed. She mentioned that today, most people in Taloyoak are using digital cameras, phones, etc. to take photographs rather than relying on analogue photography, much like the rest of us.

The Darkroom Project continues until February 26 at the Student Gallery in the Ryerson Image Centre. Click here to learn more.

The AGO is home to a superb collection of photography, supported by Signature Partner Aimia. Come and check it out for yourself. AGO Members see it for free!

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