by Sarah Bassnett. McGill-Queen's University Press, April 2016. 212 p. ill. ISBN 9780773546714 (cl.), $60.00.
Reviewed November 2016
The title Picturing Toronto: Photography and the Making of a Modern City, sums up the subject of Sarah Bassnett’s recent book in a nutshell. This significant work offers a cogent, well-argued, and thoroughly-documented presentation of the author’s ideas on photography and its role in shaping twentieth-century Toronto—a sharp focus on several aspects of Bassnett’s ongoing research.
The well-organized structure clarifies the author’s theories and methods. The book starts by establishing the role of visuality in planning Toronto, and then then proceeds to presenting case studies of the city photographers’ subjects. It concludes by reexamining its thesis presented in the introduction and then broadens this to connect photography to modernity.
Picturing Toronto would be an important addition to collections focusing on photography (particularly history and theory), city planning and architecture, and on the history of the city of Toronto. The eighteenth publication in the series, McGill-Queen’s/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History, it extends current studies of Canadian art and material culture, and is a welcome addition to the growing number of studies of Canadian photography. In addition, the author’s skillfully-realized connections to broader topics, including governmentality, modernity, and cultural anthropology, make this appropriate for a wide range of academic audiences, and for students as well as scholars.
The eighty-four illustrations include photo reproductions, images of drawings, paintings, and archival materials (maps, pamphlets, and newspapers). Items selected for inclusion, and the high standards of reproduction to which they have been held, further identify this volume as a valuable resource.
Thorough and extensively-annotated citations offer additional references, subject information, and context from the author’s point of view. The bibliography notes archival sources (and locations) and provides a voluminous list of published sources. Its index supplies a detailed, consistent guide to the ideas, people, and places in both the illustrations and the text.
From a physical and aesthetic perspective, the book’s structure offers full support for its contents. The “smaller than average art book” size promotes easy handling and reading. These functions are further supported by its hard-cover binding, and by sewn signatures that allow the book to open easily and lay flat. The wide-margined, spare layout allows full view of its illustrations and offers the reader respite as they proceed. A dust jacket with a gold-toned photo image and a coordinated crackle-print cover paper underscore the content and complete the book’s presence as an object.