Image courtesy the Art Gallery of Alberta. Photograph by Charles Cousins.

The Story Behind the Photograph: Cutline at the AGA

When The Globe and Mail decided to move from its headquarters on Front Street to a new building on King Street in Toronto, a team was faced with the daunting task of deaccessioning more than 750,000 photographs and one million negatives from its collection. Spanning decades and depicting key moments in Canadian history, the photographs were prized for their value and admired for their intricate crop and cutlines.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 original prints were donated to the Canadian Photography Institute at the National Gallery of Canada; and to celebrate this gift, an exhibition of 175 images was presented at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in Toronto and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Curated by Roger Hargreaves, Jill Offenbeck and Stefanie Petrilli, Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail is now on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

 NGC Magazine spoke to Ann Thomas, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Canadian Photography Institute, as well as Catherine Crowston, Executive Director of the Art Gallery of Alberta, about the exhibition and its iteration at the AGA.

Unknown Photographer, The Globe and Mail press room, 1952. Gift of The Globe and Mail Newspaper to the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada


NGC Magazine: Tell me about the birth of the Cutline exhibition, and the course of its development in Toronto and Ottawa. 

Ann Thomas: This exhibition arose from the donation of photographs from The Globe and Mail, and was jointly organized by the National Gallery of Canada, The Globe and Mail, and the Archive of Modern Conflict. When Roger Hargreaves, an art historian who has expertise in press photography, realized during the selection process that these images would make for an interesting exhibition, we jumped on the idea.

The Gallery’s Ellen Treciokas worked as a designer on the original leg and embraced the opportunity to work in the industrial press hall. The space spurred some interesting design innovation and led to a successful launch of the exhibition before travelling to Ottawa earlier this year.


NGCM: Tell me about the presentation of the exhibition at the AGA.

 Catherine Crowston: The Art Gallery of Alberta has an ongoing partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, and while the content of this iteration is similar to previous presentations, we were excited to host the exhibition as part of the NGC@AGA series.

We were especially interested in presenting Cutline at the AGA this summer because of the sesquicentennial activities occurring across Canada. We currently have an exhibition on view titled Past Imperfect: A Canadian History Project that looks at moments in Canadian history through works of art in our permanent collection. The Cutline exhibition complements this by offering a different perspective — presenting Canadian history through the eyes of the photojournalists themselves.


NGCM: What makes these photographs so unique?  

Catherine Crowston: The photographs are beautifully presented in wall vitrines and organized thematically, looking at different moments in Canadian history. They convey the language and spirit of the times in which they were taken, and reveal different facets of life in Canada during the postwar period.

Simultaneously, the exhibition developed around the idea of the cutline and the process of constructing information. The question of truth and the news is under a lot of discussion and debate lately — especially with our neighbours in the south — and the exhibition’s ability to reveal how we create, represent, and understand news media through these photographs and their cutlines is incredibly important.


NGCM: Are there any photographs that are particularly interesting or memorable? 

Ann Thomas: One of the most memorable photographs for me is the one that appeared in our promotion for the exhibition, depicting a woman holding a megaphone at a rally in Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. She identified herself to us as Maggie Scott and came into the Gallery to recount the story behind the photograph.

There was a lot of confusion around the image when it first hit the press. Maggie bears a resemblance to Gloria Steinem, and people jumped to the conclusion that she must be a feminist fighting for women’s rights. In fact, Maggie simply stumbled upon this rally and grabbed the microphone to denounce the rhetoric that was being directed against men. It was interesting to learn the story behind this image, and realize that not every press image is exactly as it seems.


NGCM: What do you hope that visitors will take away from this leg of the exhibition at the AGA? 

Catherine Crowston: I hope that this exhibition will inform visitors about the role of photojournalism, and help them to understand how images can contribute to our knowledge and understanding of history, events, and national identity. The exhibition also shines light on the topic of news as a constructed media, and I hope it will open visitors’ eyes to the importance of being both critical readers and consumers.


Dennis Robinson, Demonstration in Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto, 1970. Gift of The Globe and Mail Newspaper to the Canadian Photography Institute of the National Gallery of Canada


Cutline: The Photography Archives of The Globe and Mail is on view at the Art Gallery of Alberta until November 12, 2017.

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