This exhibition brings together a selection of works from the lengthy career of distinguished Prince Edward Island photographer Lionel Stevenson. Born in New Glasgow, P.E.I., Stevenson was working commercially in Toronto by the early 1960s, and was already showing fine art photography in 1964, beginning with an exhibition at Hart House, University of Toronto. In the late 1960s, he broadened the scope of his practice following a period he spent working under the great American documentary photographer Berenice Abbott. Stevenson recalls that it was Abbott who taught him how to capture a highly personal form of photographic expression, as much through printing technique as through selection of the initial shot, and that aesthetic quality was possible no matter what the photograph’s ostensible function (her own documentary work was closely linked to a political project). One need not make self-consciously “artistic” works to achieve a result both beautiful and true to the vision of the photographer. Stevenson’s unique approach is thus evident here in work drawn from many sources: commercial practice, documentary commissions, and more personal projects, including the images of Peggy’s Cove glacial erratics printed in large scale specifically for this retrospective.
It is Stevenson’s contention that subject matter is largely secondary in the creation of his most successful photographs. The special quality of the medium is that it is forever linked to a real moment, undeniably connected to a particular place and time. But paradoxically, it produces documents that bracket this moment out of the flow of everyday life, severing it from reality through the action of capturing a strictly visual statement, ultimately to land on a piece of paper. Thus, the implication of the artistic photograph as Stevenson presents it is that focused vision, rather than deceiving us, provides us with access to a truth that redirects our usual utilitarian and acquisitive habits of experiencing what surrounds us. The object of his practice is not merely to preserve, but to renew what he captures with a camera, holding out the promise that seeing can transform.
-Pan Wendt, curator