Michael Snow
Clothed Woman (In Memory of my Father) 1963
oil and lucite on canvas
152 x 386.2 cm
Purchased 1966
National Gallery of Canada

Over 100 groundbreaking images to discover the origins of modern photography

Ottawa - May 2, 2007

The National Gallery of Canada presents Modernist Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada from 4 May to 26 August 2007, an exhibition of over 100 photographs from the NGC’s collection. These images bear witness to the evolution of photography from a documentary and pictorialist style into an expressive and inventive art form. Among the featured artists are Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lisette Model, Alexander Rodchenko, and Brassaï.

These photographers, whose works date back to the first decades of the twentieth century, created their images within the context of such art movements as Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Expressionism, and Constructivism. These movements all sought to redefine the role of art in a world transformed by industrialization and war. The modernist photographs illustrate an exciting change in the artistic perception of photography in which accepted notions of photographic practice were challenged and photographic images were created that were closer to Abstractionism or Expressionism.

“It is a pleasure to showcase these artworks in our collection, which, in addition to their historic and aesthetic qualities, allow us to admire the transformation of the modern world through the camera’s eye,” said Pierre Théberge, Director of the National Gallery of Canada.

The first half of the 20th century thrived on experimentation, and introduced a great array of techniques and new subject matter. The photographers represented in Modernist Photographs from the National Gallery of Canada went beyond the act of rebellion against established pictorial conventions to produce images with new aesthetic and expressive qualities that would influence advertising photography.

Urban views were taken from exaggerated angles, which give the impression at first glance, of being nothing more than an amalgamation of shapes and lines, much like an abstract painting. As buildings and industrial forms emerge from these abstractions they testify to a world, irreversibly changed by industrialization and war, seen afresh by photographers. Human subjects no longer represent an ideal standard of beauty, but reflect the photographer’s interest in formal and psychological expression. It was during this period that photography defined itself as an independent artistic medium.

Activities, publications, and credits
An illustrated catalogue, is available in English and in French from the Gallery’s Bookstore.

Friday, May 25 at 12:15 p.m., visit the exhibition with Ann Thomas, Curator of Photographs. This activity is free with Gallery admission.

This exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Canada and is the first in a series of six exhibitions presenting masterpieces from the Gallery’s photographs collection.

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