Talking about photography and the evolution of the photographic image is a conversation we love to have. From semi recent wild changes in technology to society’s current obsession with documenting our lives, it’s a subject with never-ending juicy layers.

Identity, representation, consumerism, our relationship in nature, climate crisis, worldwide movements—photography plays a role in all of these areas. Ten years ago, we probably took about 2%, or less, of the photos that we take today, which is largely because of the invention of the smartphone, but also the rapid growth of social media. But how did it all start? The ROM’s new Breaking the Frame exhibit is a fascinating exploration of how photography has evolved over the past 200 years; a walk through inspires a wealth of ideas to think about and discuss. 

“For much of its history, photography has been considered the purview of a select group of artists working within the Western tradition,” says Josh Basseches, ROM Director & CEO. “Missing from the narrative was a deeper truth about the varied nature of photography. Breaking the Frame shows that the evolution of the art form was, in fact, a global phenomenon, incorporating and influenced by talented and innovative artists from around the world. Breaking the Frame brings a new and original perspective to the art of photography and image making, that deepens our understanding of the rich diversity of the photographic practice.”

The exhibit spotlights women’s contributions to this field and includes a special section devoted to feminist work of the 1970s. We recommend you take time to check out photographs by Sandra Brewster,  a Canadian photographer, based in Toronto, whose work documenting the Black experience in Canada is celebrated worldwide. 

“The exhibition seeks an inclusive approach to photo history that is based not on iconic works or famous names, but on the power of creativity,” says exhibition curator Phillip Prodger, who is also executive director of California-based Curatorial Exhibitions and co-founder of the Solander Collection. “Nothing about the exhibition can be considered typical. There are a number of moments in Breaking the Frame where works are paired next to one another in order to highlight similarities or differences. Visitors will discover unexpected comparisons, such as a hand-coloured portrait of an aristocratic woman made at Notman Toronto’s Studio in 1882, paired with a hand-painted portrait of a maharaja made in India in 1890. These juxtapositions are meant to open the doors to a wider understanding of photography as a global phenomenon with shared interests and ambitions.” 

Breaking the Frame is a mesmerizing exhibit that transports you to different periods of time, all over the world. To stare into these photographs and imagine the scene at which they were taken is a thrilling exercise. Breaking the Frame runs until Sunday, January 16, 2022, with timed and ticketed entry, and is well worth a visit. 

Photo above: Dorothea Lange, Argument in Trailer Court, circa 1943. © The Dorothea Lange Collection, the Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor.