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Hypervisibility: Early Photography and Privacy in North America, 1839–1900

May 9–August 3, 2024
University Gallery
Guest Curators: Sarah Parsons and Frances Dorenbaum

Given the current ubiquity of cameras and the broad circulation of photographs in this digital age, photography can be understood as a threat to privacy. But even in its earliest forms—from daguerreotypes, cartes de visite, and stereographs to commercial advertising—the medium triggered both excitement and concerns about heightened visibility. Photography carried various risks and rewards based on gender, race, class, and disability. This exhibition considers some of those aspects as it traces the fascinating interrelated and overlooked histories of photography and privacy in the nineteenth century.

This exhibition draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).


Public Programs

Opening Reception
Wednesday, May 8, 2024 | 6–8 pm 

Curator in Conversation: Privacy, Visibility, and Early Photography 
Sarah Parsons (York University) and Zeynep Gürsel (Rutgers University-New Brunswick)
Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | 6 pm 

Special Exhibition Tour: Hypervisibility
Frances Dorenbaum
Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | 6 pm

All events take place at The Image Centre (33 Gould St., Toronto) unless otherwise noted. 

Logo for the CONTACT Photography Festival
Fig. 1

City of New York, [Broadside for the capture of William C. Murray and Ada Shreve], 1873, ink on paper with two albumen prints (wanted poster). Courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives

Curator Bios

Sarah Parsons

Sarah Parsons is a professor of Art History and Visual Culture at York University. Her research explores the history and theory of photography in relation to questions of ethics and power. In the last ten years, she has published several texts on prolific 19th century photographer William Notman. She is also co-author of Photography in Canada, 1839–1989: An Illustrated History (2023) with Sarah Bassnett. Hypervisibility is part of a multiyear project, Feeling Exposed: Photography, Privacy, and Visibility in Nineteenth Century North America, supported in part by funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Frances Dorenbaum

Frances Dorenbaum is an independent curator and a PhD candidate in Art History and Visual Culture at York University. Her current research focuses on settler-colonial representations of Canadian national identity in twentieth-century news photographs. Most recently she curated exhibitions at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York and the Chicago History Museum. She was the 2020 Elaine Ling Research Fellow at The Image Centre at Toronto Metropolitan University. 

Hypervisibility: Early Photography and Privacy in North America, 1839–1900