Canadian Women Photographers

Photo by Mattie Gunterman
Vancouver Public Library Collection

Not much has been written about Canadian women photographers but I’m happy to say that the interest is gradually increasing. Here is an example of a photographer who I really like . She is Geraldine Moodie. I included this photo in an exhibition that I curated at the London Regional Art Gallery called Rediscovery, Canadian Women Photographers, 1840-1940.  The image is courtesy of the Glenbow Museum.

Geraldine Moodie was a successful studio photographer. Her first studio was opened in 1885. Later she had a studio in Maple Cree and a branch in Medison Hat, the capital of the North West territories. Her husband worked for the North West Mounted Police for 32 years. In 1903 he was promoted to superintendant with the role of claiming land for Canada. Geraldine sometimes traveled with him. On the ship, the “Arctic”, Geraldine Moodie took photographs as they traveled to Hudson’s Bay and the eastern Arctic. She was not the official photographer on the exploration but her work exceeded the quality of the official photographer yet today her photographs are historically significant. She raised six children, had two studios, and often lived under rough conditions. Quite the interesting woman.

There is now a book about Moodie that was written by Danny White called In Search of Geraldine Moodie. Great book.

It’s been about forty years that I have been obsessed with this topic.  Back in the 1970’s I had a small research grant. It got me started but I keep coming back to the topic. At first, I  traveled across Canada a couple of times, visiting collectors and archives and talking to groups about women photographers. (I had to look at the back of thousands of photos to find the women photographers.) Now it is much easier! I search through the web.

But it wasn’t just historical women that I wanted to promote. Back in the 70’s,  the University of Toronto only let men in the darkroom, so I opened up my darkroom to UofT students. It got written up in Time/Life yearbook and Popular Photography had a headline that said something like “Women Photo Liberationists are on the march in Canada.” In reality, there were less than ten of us and we formed a group called Women’s Photography Coop. We put on an exhibit and guest edited an issue of  “Image Nation” published by Coach House Press. Later we changed the name to Women in Photography and taught courses.

To bring this topic up to date, I am still pursuing this interest. In the past year, I gave a presentation to the Etobicoke Camera Club and a few years back to the Photographic Historical Society of Canada.