PhotoLab 5 and Oscar G. Rejlander at the CPI

by Photo Life

Oscar G. Rejlander, Mary Constable and Her Brother, 1866, albumen silver print, 16.8 x 22.1 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gilman Collection, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift, 2005 (2005.100.24). Photo © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he National Gallery of Canada’s Canadian Photography Institute (CPI) in Ottawa is presenting PhotoLab 5: Althea Thauberger and Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer through February 3.

Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer
Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (1813-1875) was a Victorian artist whose innovations in both the production and conceptual aspects of photography have secured him a place within the history of the medium. Surprisingly there has never been a major examination of his career…until now. The Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada presents the first-ever retrospective of the life and work of the celebrated Swedish-born, British photographer. Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer is on view at the National Gallery of Canada until February 3, 2019 before travelling to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition features 140 of Rejlander’s photographs, paintings, drawings and prints.

Oscar Gustaf Rejlander began his career as a painter who took up photography in the early 1850s. He is referred to as the “Father of Art Photography” in recognition of the path he paved for present day photo manipulation and experimentation. Rejlander often employed the technique of combination photography, where two or more negatives are combined to make a new, single image. The exhibition includes two of the four known surviving versions of his famously controversial composite photograph Two Ways of Life, or Hope in Repentance, produced in 1857 from more than 30 negatives. Rejlander is also praised for his collaboration with naturalist Charles Darwin and his influence on the work of British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and author Lewis Carroll. Their portraits, along with those of other influential 19th-century notables, including painter Gustave Doré and poet Alfred Tennyson are featured in the show.

“Oscar Gustaf Rejlander has a central place in the history of the medium. He was one of the first artists to show how photography could use allegory and narrative in the same way as more traditional arts such as painting and drawing,” said NGC Director and CEO Marc Mayer. “The National Gallery of Canada began acquiring photographs by Rejlander more than 35 years ago, and we are very happy to offer the public this overview of the work of this exceptional artist.”

The exhibition opens with work created during Rejlander earliest years in England- from 1839 to 1853. The section includes some of his non-photographic work including a large scale drawing along with some of his first landscape photographs. The second section of the exhibition contains several of Rejlander’s self-portraits and portraits of his wife Mary. In the third section photographs of Rejlander’s staged scenes of everyday life are on view followed by a series of photographic studies that Rejlander intended to be used as “photographic sketches” by other artists. One section of the exhibition examines Rejlander’s most famous work Two Ways of Life while the final section presents some of Rejlander’s studies of facial expressions made for Charles Darwin in preparation for his book on behavioural genetics, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals published in 1872.

“Rejlander’s photographs are highly relevant to artists who combine and rearrange images, not from glass negatives, but using digital tools,” said exhibition curator Lori Pauli, Curator of Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada. “Throughout this exhibition, I have tried to take a broader perspective of Rejlander’s contribution to the history of photography, before and after the creation of his most famous work known as Two Ways of Life. In Rejlander’s photographs we see a keen observer of human condition, whether he is showing us the comic side of everyday life or expressing compassion in his images of children.”

Rejlander was among the favourite photographers of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert and some of his earliest photographs have been loaned for the exhibition by the Royal Collection in Windsor. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the National Gallery in Washington, the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, have also loaned works for the show along with several other lenders from private and public collections. The exhibition includes 14 works from the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

PhotoLab 5: Althea Thauberger
Also opening October 19, 2018, in the space adjacent to the Oscar Rejlander exhibition, is PhotoLab 5: Althea Thauberger. The two-channel video installation by the Vancouver-based artist and filmmaker Althea Thauberger, coproduced by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Concordia University and the Canadian Photography Institute (CPI) of the National Gallery of Canada, was inspired by discoveries she made while visiting the archival collection of the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division, whose archives are now part of the CPI collection.

The thousands of photographs in the archives were commissioned for print and other media over a 40-year period, yielding stories of life in Canada in the post-war era- from small-town scenes to major events- that define our national history.

Thauberger’s video installation, titled L’arbre est dans ses feuilles, (The Tree Is in Its Leaves), interacts with images from the archives while telling an evocative story of its own. Audio for the 30 minute video is provided by poets Danica Evering, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, Kama La Mackerel and Chloé Savoie-Bernard. The exhibition, which was organized by Andrea Kunard, the Associate Curator of the Canadian Photography Institute, is on display in the CPI Galleries until February 3, 2019.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 300-page hardcover catalogue containing 225 colour and black and white images. With essays by the exhibition curator, Lori Pauli, and collaborators. The English and French editions are available for a price of $40 onsite at the Boutique and online at

Oscar G. Rejlander, Poor Jo, before 1862, printed after 1879, carbon print, 20.3 x 15.7 cm; image: 20.2 x 15.6 cm, Purchased 1993. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo: NGC

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