Toronto exhibit honours nearly 30 years of black photojournalists’ work

A protesting group of mostly black men, women and children carry signs that read “Fire police board” and “Stop police brutality.” The words “Don’t shoot, I’m black” are printed on a woman’s blouse. The lone white man in the group holds the hand of a young black girl marching alongside him. It is a solemn yet intense scene.

The photo telling the story was taken 38 years ago by Canadian photojournalist Jules Elder. The protesters were responding to the 1979 killing of Albert Johnson, a black Jamaican immigrant shot to death by Toronto police in his home.

Albert Johnson’s widow and children lead march in protest of his murder by Toronto police, 1980. Courtesy of artist, Jules Elder

Albert Johnson’s widow and children lead march in protest of his murder by Toronto police, 1980.

Courtesy of Jules Elder

This photo is also one of the works on showcase in a month-long exhibit in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood hosted by the Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue, also known as BAND. In the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, BAND aims to acknowledge black Canadian photojournalists who have made remarkable contributions to documenting history throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The exhibit features works from Mr. Elder, Diane Liverpool, Al Peabody, Eddie Grant and James Russell.

Their photos tell stories about migrant workers coming into Canada in the 1960s; political outcries and protests throughout the 1970s and 80s; and visits from international statesmen such as former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley and musicians, including Tina Turner and Gladys Knight.

Julie Crooks, curator of the photo exhibit, says the event is an effort to preserve and highlight an important aspect of Canadian history that is often disregarded.

“When I was thinking about the show, I was struck by the fact that most people don’t know who these photographers are,” Ms. Crooks said. “They worked for community and mainstream newspapers such as The Globe, the Star and the Sun. They also were committed to documenting the black community in moments of transition and intensity.”

Miss Black Ontario Contestants: Miss Oshawa, Miss Chatham and Ms. Agincourt, 1981.

Miss Black Ontario Contestants: Miss Oshawa, Miss Chatham and Ms. Agincourt, 1981.

Courtesy of Jim Russell

Jules Elder captured photos of turbulent relations between the police and the community in Toronto during the 1980s. As an editor at Share newspaper, Mr. Elder assisted in making it one of the largest black-owned publications in Canada.

“I thoroughly enjoyed working within the black community,” he said in an interview. “I think it is important for people to know that we have stories that deserve to be told so that generations to come will see and appreciate.”

Al Peabody worked as a journalist and photographer for Contrast, a black-owned community newspaper, and as a freelancer for The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star throughout the 1970s and 80s. Mr. Peabody captured images showing moments of pain and celebration in the black community.

“My imaging is solely a representation around where I live and the areas of interest to me,” he said. “The essence of photography is to record a slice of time in your life and pass it on so that younger people will be able to see where we have been and what we have seen.”

Diane Liverpool, the lone female photojournalist in the exhibit, worked throughout the 1970s and 80s in Toronto at Contrast. A Montreal native, Ms. Liverpool was one of the few black female photojournalists working in Toronto during that time.

A Jamaican teacher and her students visit to Contrast Newspaper, 1980.

A Jamaican teacher and her students visit Contrast Newspaper, 1980.

Courtesy of Diane Liverpool

“There were many barriers and obstacles in the field,” she said. “But I wanted to work for a black publication; that was my goal.”

The other photojournalists, Eddie Grant and Jim Russell, who both contributed to Contrast and other publications such as the Toronto Sun and Share, also produced works that were instrumental in amplifying the voices of black Canadians and other marginalized groups.

The exhibit continues until May 28 at BAND’s new location, 19 Brock Ave.

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