Photography has served as a testament to human history since the early 19th century. In its infancy, photography required long exposure times and a controlled environment, so it was confined to studios and portraiture. Later advances democratized the medium, and by the early 1900s, it was much more accessible to the amateur photographer. As a result, photography became an important historical document, not only portraying official history, but also the private lives of its users.

With the introduction of colour and digital photography, photographic images have become ubiquitous, as we record our lives through still images of big occasions, and little moments.

The Ontario Jewish Archives’ photographic collection is rich in history, documenting the province’s Jewish community from the late 1800s to the present, through hundreds of thousands of images. The photographs include the professional work of photographers like Al Gilbert, Sylvia Schwartz, Gordon Mendly and Nir Bareket who documented important community events, people, and private milestones.

The OJA also holds a strong collection of family photos and snapshots taken by community members – capturing holidays, vacations, and everyday life. These intimate images document the texture of Jewish life from Thunder Bay to Windsor and everywhere in between.

The diversity of imagery in the Ontario Jewish Archives’ photography collection builds a comprehensive and priceless visual history of the community. The images are reflections of what used to be that inform what is now. They reveal what has changed and what remains the same, connecting Jewish generations and communities through the years and across the province.

Archivist Notes

Through hundreds of thousands of images dating from the 1800s to the present, the photographic collection of the Ontario Jewish Archives offers a comprehensive and visually compelling history of the community. These images donated by organizations, individuals, and photographers, showcase the artistry of portraiture, the evolution of amateur photography and photographic processes. Whether captured through the professional lens or a family camera, these photographs are rich with evidence of our shared experiences that promote meaningful connections across generations. Photography holds a profound historic importance as an archival record, revolutionizing the way we document and preserve our collective memory, offering us an intimate window into the experiences of people and places that might otherwise have been lost to time. For community archives like the OJA, they are an essential component to understanding the evolution of a community, its spaces, and its people.

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