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Photography History

Picturing Toronto

Photography and the Making of a Modern City

by (author) Sarah Bassnett

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Apr 2016
History, Post-Confederation (1867-)
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2016
    List Price

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In 1911, when Arthur Goss was hired as Toronto’s first official photographer, the city was at a critical juncture. Industry expansion and population growth produced pressing concerns about housing shortages, sanitation, and the health and welfare of citizens. Dispelling popular misconceptions, Picturing Toronto demonstrates that Goss and other photographers did not simply document the changing conditions of urban life – their photography contributed to the development of modern Toronto and shaped its inhabitants. Drawing on archival sources from the early twentieth century, Sarah Bassnett investigates how a range of groups, including the municipal government, social reformers, and the press, used photography to reconfigure the urban environment and constitute liberal subjects. Through a series of case studies, including the construction of the Bloor Viaduct, civic beautification plans, urban reform in “the Ward,” immigration and citizenship, and Goss’s portrait photography, Bassnett exposes how photographs were at the heart of debates over what the city should look like, how it should operate, and under what conditions it was appropriate for people to live. This lavishly illustrated book is the first study to treat images as vital elements that shaped Toronto’s social and political history. Interdisciplinary in its approach, Picturing Toronto displays the complex entanglements between photography and urban modernity.

About the author

Sarah Bassnett is associate professor of art history at Western University.

Sarah Bassnett's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Picturing Toronto offers a visually compelling look at the history of Toronto in its quest for modernity, and offers a glimpse into how a new form of technology could be a transformative force in a rapidly evolving city." Spacing

"The author makes a strong case not just about the role of photography in shaping a modern Toronto, but in shaping its modern citizens as well. And she has bigger ambitions which she begins to fulfill with this book: to convince the reader that photograph

"This significant work offers a cogent, well-argued, and thoroughly-documented presentation of the author's ideas on photography and its role in shaping twentieth-century Toronto. Picturing Toronto would be an important addition to collections focusing on