All photographs © Ronald Hurwitz 2013

Ronald Hurwitz Photography 5-32 Tyre Avenue Toronto, Ontario Canada M9A 1C5 416 465-5890

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Allée Anatole France, Paris, 1986

Print No.s 46 - 48

Ronald Hurwitz’s photographic practice began in 1979, during his career as a violist in the Toronto Symphony. Within two years he had exhibited works that were exhibited at Toronto’s Déja Vue Gallery, and won awards there in a juried competition. His discovery of the medium launched a concentrated exploration of its history and expressive capacities, and has resulted in a diverse body of work that includes urban spaces in New York, Paris, and Venice, portraiture and still life studies. The works in this donation have Paris as their focus, and are subtle and sensitive observations of details of that great and engaging city. They quietly reference the enduring pleasures encountered in a setting that has long drawn photographers, and simultaneously reference and honour photographic history and its definitive moments.

Allée Anatole France, Paris, 1986 [46], is both an observation of a Paris street from a high viewpoint and a graphically satisfying abstraction of that environment. The visual balance is achieved through the relation of the broad diagonal stroke of the Allée as it traverses and dominates the space, to the whimsy of the non-symmetrical arms that branch off to its left and right. The regularity of French park design is acknowledged in the rendering of the two rows of trees that bisect the broad graveled pathway, and the espaliered shrubs that dot the ground at regular intervals on the un-trodden grass to its right. As contrast, strollers dot the public gardens, bringing the randomness of human activity to bear on the highly constructed space. The photo-historical reference here is to André Kertész’s experimentation in 1927 with photographing Paris from above, in particular from the first platform of the Eiffel tower, resulting in a previously unseen view of the ground that ruptured expectation in the viewer and forced a fresh seeing of a commonplace urban surface. This artistic strategy was newly in the air in the 1920s, being significantly practiced slightly earlier by the Constructivist Aleksandr Rodchenko, whose camera angles dramatically led the viewer’s eye both upward and downward, and resulted in visual patterns previously unrecognized.

Vie au féminin, 21, mars 1988, Paris, 1988 [47], (the title is taken from the newspaper in the composition) is a still life and iconographic index of the traveler’s essentials gathered on a table, evoking a reverence for reduction to bare necessity when abroad and out of one’s domestic orbit. The traveler is clearly in a city that supports the pleasures of passing time in a café, and all the requirements for doing so are within reach - symbolically present in the form of the clock as available time, the newspaper as window on the wider world, the funds that allow travel, the Métro tickets that facilitate exploration and the eyeglasses that allow seeing and bringing the day’s voyage into focus. The photograph is a pleasure to contemplate, with its content familiar to anyone who has spent time in France at the inevitable small tables found in cafés. At the same time it is a reference to this enduring theme in the work of photographers such as René Jacques, Robert Doisneau and Brassai in the 1930s, and decades later in photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dennis Stock and Ralph Gibson, all of whom saw in the simple café table a platform for the gathering and contemplation of the symbolic objects that are the stuff of passing lives. Though his home base is Toronto, Ronald Hurwitz passes time each year in Paris and this tabletop is a graphic symbolic acknowledgement of continuance and of his photographic predecessors.
La Main Flottante, 55, Passage des Panoramas, Paris, 2002, [48], carries a deft nod to Surrealism in the form of a disembodied hand mysteriously hovering over antique envelopes in the Passage des Panoramas. The image is intriguing, carrying with it the knowledge that the hand likely belongs to the proprietor reaching to show one to a client; but it also creates a willingness in the viewer to believe that it hovers there permanently, as part of the magic evoked by the extraordinary Passage des Panoramas and its storied history. The Passage, a beautiful glass-roofed arcade built in 1799, now houses an eclectic range of antiquarian bookstores, antique dealers, engravers, restaurants and shops. Its relationship to photographic history is important in that it is associated with Louis-Jacques-Mandé-Daguerre’s dioramas and their spectacular and magical light effects that enthralled Parisians in the 1820s and ‘30s as an historical precursor to the cinema. Daguerre famously went on to invent photography in the form of the Daguerreotype - the invention being announced to the world in 1939. The Passage des Panoramas thus carries the aura of this vital piece in the development of the medium with which Ron Hurwitz now works, and for him, and for others aware of its significance, provides a background note to this captivating and slightly unsettling image.

Ronald Hurwitz’s Paris-based works have been collected by the Maison Européenne de la photographie, the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothéque Historique de la Ville de Paris, all three of which play a central role in the School of Image Arts’ Masters program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management. The RIC is pleased to now include the above three prints in the collection.

by Peter Higdon, Collections Curator, Ryerson Image Centre