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  • Tim Greyhavens

New Canadian Institute Combines World-class Philanthropy and Photography

The National Gallery of Canada recently announced the creation of the Canadian Institute of Photography (CPI), a new organization that will be one of the largest repositories of photographs and photographic apparatus in the world. The Institute, which will be housed at the National Gallery in Ottawa, has come about through two significant gifts from private and corporate philanthropy.

On the private side, billionaire David Thomson, chair of Thomson Reuters Corp., will donate most of his own collection of 19th and 20th century photographs, books and historical objects – thought to be one of the largest private collections in the world. These gifts will be in addition to the estimated 12,000 photographs and objects Thomson donated to the Gallery just this year alone. A somewhat controversial figure, Thomson has been collecting art and photography for much of his life, and he now owns what is thought to be the world's top collection of John Constable's works.

Among the gifts that Thomson has promised is the Isenburg Collection of early American photographs and photographic equipment. The collection is described as "unparalleled" in its breadth and depth, and it is especially known for its many early Daguerreotypes and Daguerreotype cameras. Among its highlights are the largest group of Southworth and Hawes images in private hands, one of the earliest surviving Daguerreotypes of the U.S. Capitol, and a large number of early images and photographic ephemera from the California Gold Rush.

In addition to the Thomson donations, the CPI will continue to build on the already important collections of the National Gallery, which include the holdings of the former Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and the most comprehensive collection of Canadian photography and photographic history. There has been a long-time commitment to photography at the National Gallery, as evidenced by its beautiful 1993 publication Magicians of Light: Photographs from the Collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

The other key philanthropic partner in the new Institute is Scotiabank, the third-largest bank in Canada and a long-time supporter of photography in that country. The bank has pledged $10 million as a founding partner in CPI. This is the single largest philanthropic gift in the bank's 183-year history, and in recognition of this gift the National Gallery will rename its Great Hall to the Scotiabank Great Hall.

Scotiabank began collecting photographs in 1976 and has a major promoter of Canadian photography for the past 40 years. For much of the past decade the bank has been the major sponsor of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, which is the largest annual peer-reviewed award in Canadian contemporary photography. In addition, the bank annually sponsors the Scotiabank Photography Award, which includes a cash prize of $50,000 plus a book and exhibition for the winning photographer.

In addition to showcasing its very impressive collection, the new Institute will offer on-going photographic exhibitions, research fellowships, publications, conferences and public lectures.

Tim Greyhavens

December, 2015

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