Photo Narratives: Remembering the 20th Century

Ryerson Historical B&W Photos


A day of victory, a massive change in the landscape of warfare, the assassination of a President and a civil rights activist, a journey into outer space – each of these events, and more, marked the 20th century in ways which were inconceivable at the time, yet have now become integral threads in constructing a narrative of world history.

Photo Narratives: Remembering the 20th Century grapples with notions of memory and history by drawing upon a selection of compelling images from Ryerson’s Black Star Historical Black & White Photography Collection.

Assembled over a period of eighty years at the Black Star photo agency in New York City, the photographs in this collection, more than a quarter million, describe the personalities, events and conflicts of the twentieth century, from before World War I to Vietnam and beyond. The Black Star holdings include the work of more than 3,000 different image-makers, many of them acknowledged as individuals who helped define picture journalism as it evolved throughout the twentieth century.

The digitally reproduced images in this exhibition represent major historical events that continue to affect the human psyche. In exploring these iconic moments that have inevitably become etched in our collective memory, these pictures prompt the viewer to ask the question: “Where was I when this happened?”

Curated by Valérie Boileau-Matteau