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"I always know the picture is waiting for me, it's waiting, and it's up to me …"
- Boris Spremo, Twenty Years of Photojournalism, 1983.
Today we take for granted that a photojournalist will act as our immediate witness to any major news event, capturing the images that stay in our minds longer than any text; but photojournalism emerged only in the 1920s, through the convergence of technological change and political and social upheaval. While illustrated newspapers and magazines began publishing in 1842 (1849 in Canada), these publications relied on engravings even after the invention of the photographic halftone by Quebecers William Augustus Leggo and George-Édouard Desbarats, in 1869. Leggo and Desbarats published thousands of halftones over a 14-year period in Canadian Illustrated News and L'Opinion publique. However, it was not until the development of the small and quick Leica and Ermanox cameras in Germany between 1913 and 1914 that photographers and editors could fully exploit the technology to produce "action shots" of current events. Photography's widespread adoption as a news medium was delayed by the outbreak of the First World War, during which only official photographers were allowed to produce images for distribution to the press.
After the First World War, a new generation of photographers used cameras to capture the social, cultural and political upheaval of their times. Illustrated magazines in Germany developed the photo essay, a story told through images, with minimal supporting text, and with an emphasis on human emotions and tensions. New picture magazines such as Life and Picture Post in the United States, and Liberty and The New World in Canada were introduced, and newsmagazines such as Saturday Night and Maclean's also included photo essays as a regular feature.
Supplements to newspapers, such as Weekend Magazine, Perspectives and the Star Weekly provided competition to the above magazines from the 1950s to the 1970s. However, the most prolific producer of the photo essay in Canada was the National Film Board's (NFB) Still Photography Division, which produced stories for distribution from 1943 to 1972, supplying stories to over 100 Canadian publications by the late 1950s. Along with the Department of National Defence, the NFB provided a steady source of war-related images for the press during the Second World War.
Following the war, newspapers also ran increasing numbers of photographs, with both staff and freelance photographers providing a steady flow of images that fed the public's growing desire for an "unadulterated" view of events. Much of the photo essay work highlighted in this exhibition also reveals the development of photography as a mode of social commentary and critique on issues such as multiculturalism, human rights, urban development and political conflict. In this aspect, photojournalism provides Canadians with a deeper understanding of the complexity of our history.
Almost half of the 23 million photographs in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are contained in a broad range of photojournalistic collections. LAC serves as a national source of history and knowledge accessible to all, helping Canadians to understand how individuals, issues and events have influenced Canada's development.