Groundbreaking exhibition at Royal Ontario Museum explores alternative history of photography

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Groundbreaking exhibition at Royal Ontario Museum explores alternative history of photography
Henry Peach Robinson, When the Day’s Work is Done, 1877.

TORONTO.- Royal Ontario Museum invites visitors to explore photography through a new lens with Breaking the Frame, a new exhibition highlighting key moments from nearly 200 years of photographic history. From inventors William Henry Fox Talbot and Hippolyte Bayard to surrealist Florence Henri; to the great flowering of mid-century North American work with Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Dorothea Lange; to celebrated Malian photographer Malick Sidibé and pioneering Chinese photographer, Lang Jingshan, Breaking the Frame explores a wide diversity of viewpoints that make up the great richness of the photographic medium today.

“For much of its history, photography has been considered the purview of a select group of artists working within the Western tradition,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO. “Missing from the narrative was a deeper truth about the varied nature of photography. Breaking the Frame shows that the evolution of the art form was, in fact, a global phenomenon, incorporating and influenced by talented and innovative artists from around the world. Breaking the Frame brings a new and original perspective to the art of photography and image making, that deepens our understanding of the rich diversity of the photographic practice.”

The exhibition includes rarely seen work by iconic figures of photography; lesser known but highly influential artists; Canadian photographers who made their mark; and innovative works from photo studios in West Africa and India, including an original painted studio backdrop where visitors can pose for their own pictures. Breaking the Frame examines how artists experimented with photography through time, and how individual photographers from different locations around the world have made important contributions throughout its development. Breaking the Frame is organized by Curatorial Exhibitions and is drawn from the Solander Collection with selected works from the ROM’s collection. Founded by two curators and based in Oregon and California, the Solander Collection is one of the premiere photography collections in private hands. This is the first time the collection has been exhibited publicly.

Since photography's inception, women have stood among its artistic and technological pioneers. Breaking the Frame highlights include a rare c.1843 daguerreotype by Madame Gelot-Sandoz in Paris, created four years after the acknowledged introduction of photography, and believed to be one of the first photographs made by a woman. A special section is devoted to feminist work of the 1970s. Visitors will also see contemporary works from trail-blazing women including Canadian photographer Sandra Brewster, who is known internationally for her community-based practice focusing on the Black experience in Canada.

“The exhibition seeks an inclusive approach to photo history that is based not on iconic works or famous names, but on the power of creativity,” says exhibition curator Phillip Prodger, who is also executive director of California-based Curatorial Exhibitions and co-founder of the Solander Collection. “Nothing about the exhibition can be considered typical. There are a number of moments in Breaking the Frame where works are paired next to one another in order to highlight similarities or differences. Visitors will discover unexpected comparisons, such as a hand-coloured portrait of an aristocratic woman made at Notman Toronto’s Studio in 1882, paired with a hand-painted portrait of a maharaja made in India in 1890. These juxtapositions are meant to open the doors to a wider understanding of photography as a global phenomenon with shared interests and ambitions.”

Breaking the Frame is on display from Saturday, August 14, 2021 to Sunday, January 16, 2022.

Dedicated to the enjoyment and understanding of photographic art in all its forms, the Solander Collection ( has a special emphasis on international traditions, under-represented and forgotten artists, ethnic diversity, and women. The aim of the collection is to broaden the understanding of photography as inclusive and democratic. Nearly all works are vintage (made within a few years of the negative) and include many rarities and “firsts.” It is a working collection, intended to be shared through exhibitions and publications. The collection is based in Oregon and California and is available to view by appointment, when it is not on public view.

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