Taking place in Toronto, Canada, throughout May, the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography festival combines a symposium (“The 'Public Life' of Photographs”), book launch and various events alongside three exhibitions taking place at The Ryerson Image Centre.

One of the most interesting contributions to the exhibition programme during CONTACT is Arthur S. Goss: Works & Days curated by Blake Fitzpatrick and John Bentley Mays in collaboration with the City of Toronto Archives. Goss was the first employed photographer for the city of Toronto and worked for the government from 1911 to 1940. Due to the official nature of his employment, the photographs he produced were not based on Goss' own interests but rather commissioned by unknown individuals within the city department. This places the thousands of images produced by Goss in the fascinating and sometimes dispassionate zone of the 'civic photograph' which was so invested during the early 20th Century.

Goss was not just responsible for capturing the city and building-scapes of Toronto but also the humanistic angle that made up daily life and showed how the the city was expanding and changing with the times. Goss was often the only photographer capturing pivotal moments in the cities history and progression. One of the first projects he worked on for the city was around public health and living conditions and involved cataloguing the cities poor and slum areas. The resulting images, dilapidated interiors, toilets, kitchens are also joined by images of the improvements that were being made by the city. For example the implementation of dental treatment and regular health checks into the school's service and the introduction of two 'forest schools' which taught children in the fresh air and provided basic nutritional hot food for lunch in order to prevent diseases like tuberculosis. One shot, marked 'Board of Education, Toronto. Aug 20 1913' shows four school children at Park Forest School at the High  either practising or being shown how to brush their teeth. Each girl clutches a white enamel mug and one beribboned child is being physically shown by the teacher and the others look on.

The curators have, for this exhibition, chosen to focus their attention on the less humanistic of Goss' work and show the way in which Goss' practice was necessarily systemic, practical and also mundane. Often Goss would be sent to photograph a subject as simple as a road or building and this exhibition shows these images in chronological order, showing different angles and attempts at the same view – revealing the way in which the photographer must work in order to convey a message or subject. This angle of Goss' practice, the curators say, has been the most overlooked by previous investigators into the photographers work and methods.

Arthur S. Goss runs from 1st May through to 2nd June and then from 19th June to the 25th August at Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto.



AuthorSacha Waldron