By Idit Kohan-Harpaz
Ryerson University Exhibitions and Publications course tasks graduate students with the exhibition of family albums.
Last fall, as a part of Ryerson University’s Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management (F+PPCM) Master’s program, my class and I faced the biggest challenge yet of our program.
We were given the task to curate an original exhibition, produce a catalogue, and create a complementary digital project to open at the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) Gallery at Ryerson University in January 2018. This project was part of a course, instructed by two leading curators, Sophie Hackett from the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and Gaëlle Morel from the Ryerson Image Centre (RIC). In addition, we had the chance to learn from other experts and to work with a fascinating collection of twenty family albums, which were collected through The Family Camera Network at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). We had four months to plan and set up our exhibition.
Examining the albums: A compilation of photographs from a diplomat family’s journey.
At the beginning of our course, we looked at a table covered with twenty handmade, notebook-sized albums, containing photographs, mostly sized 5.4 cm by 5.5 cm. Typewritten captions, glued to the album pages, offered explanations and personal impressions for the images. All of the albums shared the same format and style, with only the imagery’s geographic location changing from one album to the next.
These albums depict the story of a diplomat husband and his wife, Nick and Margaret Corry. The couple traveled around the world between 1947 and 1963. Nick, who worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), received assignments in seven different locations: Shanghai, China; Paris, France; Teheran, Iran; New Delhi, India; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Manila, Philippines; and Bangkok, Thailand. During these travels, Margaret devoted herself to documenting the regions and events. She took photographs and wrote down her impressions. She documented the people that were a part of their life, their various residences, and their activities. Margaret shared historical moments with the viewer, through her lens, the viewer can peek into the devastation of post-World War II Europe or India’s first year of independence, and many more. Through her work, we see the couple’s excitement to reside in each country, and to visit a variety of attractions that were later recognized as World Heritage Sites. Margaret compiled her photographs into albums, which were sent to their family in Canada, their home country.
Through collaboration – between the exhibition, catalogue, and digital teams – we took a holistic approach to exploring the albums.
Early in the process, we brainstormed how to handle family albums in a public exhibition. We wondered how to best exhibit twenty years of travel on gallery walls. We took into consideration not only the albums’ historical value, but also the fact that the images come from a private individual who took these pictures for personal reasons. The family did not originally create the albums for public display; rather, they compiled the albums to memorialize their personal travels. Nonetheless, the albums found their way into the museum, via the collecting activities of The Family Camera Network, which recognized their historical importance to the public. The albums portray the personal narrative of a world traveler, who experienced first-hand the 20th century's geopolitical and colonial upheavals. Therefore, we tried to find a way to highlight both the historical and artistic aspects of this collection. Additionally, we sought to balance the needs for a successful exhibition with the family’s privacy needs.
We divided the project content into four themes, which would serve as the foci of the exhibition: Nick’s UN position and related materials; travel; leisure and social circle; and the couple’s home and family in Canada. We then split into three teams and together, we strove to create a multi-dimensional experience for our visitors. To this end, we presented the albums and pages in the gallery space. Supplementing the gallery experience, we created a catalogue that mirrors the experience of holding and looking through an album. Finally, we developed a digital experience that allows the viewer to visualize the Corry’s travels through illustrated routes and satellite maps display. These three elements had a common purpose: to present the Corry family story as vividly as possible.
Our exhibition, catalogue, and digital teams create a multifaceted experience.
The Exhibition Team oversaw the development of the exhibition in the University Gallery at the RIC. This team sought to bring the visitors into close contact with the albums, keeping conservation issues in mind. Given this aim, the team selected individual album pages and curated them alongside Margaret's personal captions. They also combined articles from Time Magazine, discussing historical periods related to the events reflected in the albums, for historical reference. A visitor could thus walk through the exhibition and view Margaret’s work and appreciate her persistency through a close examination of her albums.
The Catalogue Team published a full reprint of one of Margaret’s albums, along with essays on topics discussed in the exhibition written by the team members and illustrated with beautiful collages of Margaret’s photos, made by Naoise Dunne. The catalogue supplements the exhibition and also serves as a stand-alone publication that gives readers the opportunity to connect to the Corry's experiences and images.
The Digital Team, which I was a part of, created a website that illustrates twenty years of the couple’s travels and routes on a digital world map. Here, the myriad photographs convey the breadth of the couple’s travels. Viewers can digitally “visit” all the locations that Nick and Margaret explored by engaging with the enrouteagain.ca site. By choosing the "routes" button, the viewer enters a world map with assorted routes. The digital visitor chooses a route, followed by countries and cities on the route. Then, images of that location will pop up, accompanied by Margaret’s impressions and explanatory information about the site.
Thanks to the generosity of the ROM, The Family Camera Network, and the Martin family, viewers can experience a valuable piece of history, told from the point of view of an adventurous Canadian woman who travelled the world and dedicated herself in documenting those valuable experiences for generations to come.
Instructors: Sophie Hackett (AGO) and Gaëlle Morel (RIC)
Exhibition Team: Sam Bernier-Cormier, Erin Levitsky, Tori Masters
Publication Team: Naoise Dunne, Tanya Marshall, Emily Miller
Digital Team: Idit Kohan-Harpaz, Mia Torres
Idit Kohan-Harpaz // Coming from a history and photography background, Idit has explored photography’s various genres over the years, eventually finding her niche with family photography. She is now a student at the Ryerson University’s Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Master’s program. She interns with The Family Camera Network at the ROM. Israeli-born, Idit is also a mother of two.