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Exhibition at the City of Toronto Archives

September - December 2017  |  March - August 2018


Children on the street - visual precedents

During the period of the mid- to late-19th century in both North America and Britain the image of the impoverished child on the streets of large cities became a subject of aesthetic pleasure (through the painterly genre of the “waif” or “urchin”) and, as photography became technically more accessible and reproducible, a subject of media interest and a vehicle for social reform. As well, with the advent of Kodak in the 1880s and the explosion of amateur photography, a counter-image of the middle- and upper-class child as a tasteful photographic subject was actively promoted by the company. The range of potential image uses illustrates well the play between the formal and the factual that characterized, and still does, an inherent tension within the medium. This constitutes the larger image environment in relation to the representation of children that photographers working in Toronto in the early 20th century, such as Arthur Goss and William James, would have been aware of and influenced by.


Why were photographs made? What was the commission?

Who made photographs? When and where? Were they a professional photographer or an amateur?

What were they used for? Did they get reused?

Where are they kept now? A public or private collection?

If archived, under what section or category? And which archive has the photographs, copies, negatives?


What, if any impact did they have?

a. At the time they were made
b. In between when they were made and the present

c. Now


What is the child’s presence in the photograph?

a. Incidental – are they “Stowaways?” (E. Edwards) Is their presence accidental, i.e. non- deliberate?

b. Is it a deliberate inclusion and/or is purpose primarily to document the children in public spaces?


If deliberate, are the children:

a. Unnamed
b. Named
c. Given a context? What are they doing? What is their agency in the public space?


Ryerson University 

Archives & Special Collections

Research was conducted on photographic publications between 1900-1935 that instructed individuals “how” to perform photography. Various photographic texts, monthly journals, trade circulars, and magazines were researched to locate advertisements, photographs, articles, and essays that highlighted the various methods of “making” photographs. These materials were useful in understanding theories and representations surrounding women and children, street photography, cityscapes, public spaces, and social welfare and reform. 

Click here to see the materials that were included in the exhibition.

The Fine Art of Representing Children on the Streets


Motherhood & Early Photography Practices


'Dressing Down': 

Imaging Poverty








1886 - 1918  Circulation and diverse use of photographs of children in Toronto social reform movements


1888 First portable camera aimed at amateurs introduced by Kodak


1888 System of archiving photographs introduced by Alphonse Bertillon


1888 - 1900 Key period of socially-concerned photography by Jacob Riis, New York


1890 - 1895 Invention of half-tone printing allows media to begin printing photos in newspapers regularly


1900 - 1930 Pictorial photography aims to advance the status of photography as fine art


1900 - 1920 Rapid expansion of amateur photography encourages a diverse and interesting approach to story-telling 


1900 - 1913 Rise of child portraiture in a professional studio setting


1905 Kodak launches the Brownie Camera 


1906 - 1936  Key period of socially-concerned photography by Lewis Hine


1906 Kodak’s 3B Quick Focus Camera hits the market


1909 - 1915 Key period for documenting Toronto’s playgrounds 


1909 - 1940 William James photographs Toronto


1910 - 1930 Kodak photography contests create mass interest and participation amongst amateur photographers


1910 - 1930 Female photographers play a key role as producers of children’s portraiture


1911 Creation of blueprint and photography section in the Toronto Public Works Department


1911 - 1940  Arthur Goss photographs for the City of Toronto


1911 - 1917 Department of Health and Housing commissions Goss to photograph unsanitary conditions in rears of houses in downtown Toronto


1913 Kodak promotes “At Home” portraiture creating a new photographic practice and aesthetic 


1913 Jacob Riis presents his piece, The Value of Playgrounds to the Community, in Toronto


1916 Kodak’s How to Make Good Pictures becomes an essential instructional text 


1917 - 1927 Key period for assembling and viewing the “Album” 


1918 Kodak’s Graflex Camera – “the best camera to use for ‘news-worthy’ images”


1919 - 1928 Key period for Toronto’s Central Neighbourhood House use of photography



City of Toronto Archives

Ryerson University Archives & Special Collections

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