True to the Eyes

The Howard and Carole Tanenbaum Photography Collection

Carole and Howard Tanenbaum, a couple who live and work (Carole is a collector and seller of vintage costume jewellery and Howard is a lawyer and real estate developer) in Toronto, have collected photographs for over forty years. From January to April of 2019, more than two hundred pieces from their collection were exhibited at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto.

The Tanenbaums’ tastes are eclectic and wide-ranging: there are glass plates, tintypes and daguerreotypes, some collected for their frames and cases as much as for their photographic subject matter, magic lantern slides and copper plates, as well as more modern expressions of the photographic medium. The Tanenbaums have collected the work of some artists in depth: Southworth & Hawes, William Notman, Brassaï, Diane Arbus, Mary Ellen Mark, Lisette Model, Rafael Goldchain, among others. But a significant portion of the collection are vernacular works whose creators are anonymous or less well-known photographers. The collection ranges broadly in subject matter and includes images of civil rights movements, of divisions between wealth and poverty, of family life, of Canadian landscapes (including many of Niagara Falls) and of historic Palestine and Jerusalem. The unifying aspect of the collection is the Tanenbaums’ desire to bring important photographic works to Canada and to share them with other lovers of photography.

In an interview published in the exhibition catalogue, True to the Eyes, Carole Tanenbaum responds to a question about how their collection of photographs evolved. She describes a gradual and intuitive process guided largely by curiosity:

“We were never influenced by what was either in magazines or by what people were telling us to collect. I think that’s how our collection differs from so many others. It is really idiosyncratic, based on works that we couldn’t live without or that intrigued us. When we started, we didn’t really have a sense of what we were going to collect, we just followed our instincts.”

Later in the interview, Carole Tanenbaum describes the joy of collecting these works over time:

“What our photographs bring us is an ongoing joy and dialogue. When we pass by a piece we’ve had for forty years, we see it as an old friend. There is an intimacy; these objects are precious to us, and they reflect who we are. It’s also fun to rediscover pictures we bought years ago when we find them in our storage. In fact, we’ve always maintained that photographs don’t necessarily have to be hung on the wall, they just have to be loved!”

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