Collecting Moments: The Photographs of Dr. John E. Ackerman

2018, Black Cat Art Gallery, History, Ontario Jewish Archives, Photography, Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival
archival photographs, CONTACT Photography Festival, mid-20th-century photography, photography, Toronto history
About This Project

Project Members: Charlotte Gagnier & Sarah Proulx


Venue: Black Cat Artspace


Dates: May 17-June 10, 2018


Collecting Moments presents the personal photographs of Dr. John E. Ackerman, an accomplished amateur photographer whose images provide a historical account of life in Toronto in the mid-20th century. Ackerman’s vast photographic collection portrays everyday activity on the streets and joyful moments with his family, friends, and neighbours. The photographs and themes presented in this exhibition engage with the specific histories from which the photographs emerged, they create awareness, provoke dialogues and encourage new ways of thinking.


This exhibition is a Featured Exhibition in the 2018 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, where Ackerman’s photographs are exhibited to the public for the first time. Bringing these photographs out of the archives and presenting them in the largest photography festival in the world will draw contemporary audiences interested in arts, culture, and history.


Ackerman’s photographs are on display at Black Cat Artspace, a storefront conversion gallery, located at Dundas and Roncesvalles. Black Cat is perfect for the exhibition as its outer storefront facade is reminiscent of many of the street scene images depicted in Ackerman’s photographs. Likewise, this intimate space is perfect for showcasing the images, printed from archival negatives and prints in a small size, to match the format they would have been printed originally.


Collecting Moments is presented in partnership with the Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre (OJA), a department of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. The photographs featured in the exhibition are part of the OJA’s Ackerman collection and the Ackerman family’s personal collection. Collecting Moments is supported by The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, Weinbaum Family Foundation, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre and Ester Cohen.


Planning for the project began in late September 2017 and started with a visit to the OJA to discuss the project and look through the Ackerman collection. The initial steps in the planning process were to confirm a venue and apply for the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival by early November. Next, we began sorting through the collection, scanning archival negatives and prints, and doing curatorial research. By mid-March, we had the photographs edited and sent to the printer and were making final revisions on interpretive material. In April, we framed the photographs and were finalizing the details of the installation plan and opening reception. The exhibition was installed on May 16th with the opening reception on May 17th running through to June 10th.


Collecting Moments features 54 photographs from the Ackerman collection. The photographs were produced from digital scans of archival negatives and prints. We choose to print the photographs in a small size to emulate how they would have been printed originally. Minimal editing was done to the images, keeping imperfections and colour variation that reveal the life and age of the material. The featured piece is a large vinyl photograph of a young girl outside of Ackerman’s Grocery with a reflection of Ackerman taking the photograph in the store’s window. Ten of the photographs, mainly depicting life within the Ward and other black and white street scenes, are grouped together in a row arrangement. While the remainder of the photographs, both colour and black and white, are arranged in salon style. Interpretive elements include an exhibition label, printed on vinyl and taking up the small wall in the gallery. Biographical and contextual information, as well as the wall layout with the associated tombstone labels, are available on a printed pamphlet. Rather than separately discussing themes represented in the exhibition, interpretive material has been woven within the artist’s biography as the two are hard to separate. The general themes include life in the Ward, cottage country, university and military days, and road trips and other family celebrations.


Much of our marketing campaign was provided by the social media networks of Black Cat Artspace including their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts and the networks of the Ontario Jewish Archives. The OJA promoted the exhibition on their website, social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter, and in their newsletter. As a Featured Exhibition in the CONTACT Photography Festival, our exhibition was promoted on their website, catalogue and social media networks.


The OJA is the largest repository of Jewish life in Canada and strives to make all the material that it acquires and preserves accessible to the public. Exhibitions are one way that the OJA makes their collection accessible to audiences both within and outside of the Jewish Community. The exhibition is included in CONTACT, which allows the OJA to reach a far greater audience, which was one of their goals when developing this project.


We would like to thank all of the sponsors for their support with this exhibition. The Ontario Jewish Archives for organizing the exhibition and bringing such an amazing project to the Faculty of Information as well as providing guidance and feedback on all aspects of the project. Thanks to the faculty and students at the University of Toronto who gave feedback and suggestions as the exhibition progressed as well as Black Cat for answering all our questions and giving advice and support throughout this process. Lastly, a very special thank you to the Ackerman family for bringing such an amazing collection of historical photographs to the OJA to be made available for so many others to enjoy.