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Geoffrey James

Curator's Commentary

An accomplished photographer based in Toronto, Geoffrey James explores the relationship between human society and its surroundings. Adept in a wide range of styles and genres, including classical and documentary, black-and-white and colour, he has, in recent years, primarily focused his attention on social documentary, turning his lens toward such subjects as the mining town of Sudbury, Ontario, and the Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ontario – Canada’s oldest prison, now closed. In his series Dundas Square (2011–2013), he directed his attention to the eponymous square located at the intersection of Yonge Street – Toronto’s longest street – and Dundas Street – Toronto’s oldest street – and one of Canada’s busiest meeting places, with an average of more than 62,000 pedestrians per day. As the hub of the city of Toronto, it serves as both a social space and a commercial centre, functioning as a magnet for urban youth, recent immigrants, tourists and other visitors to the city, and as a microcosm of the city’s transcultural identity.


Geoffrey James was born in Wales in 1942, and read Modern History at Wadham College, Oxford. A self-taught photographer, he has for more than thirty years devoted himself to photographing the man-made landscape, from the aristocratic idyll of European formal gardens to the democratic landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted. His subjects have included the devastated asbestos-mining landscape of Québec and the no-man’s-land along the US–Mexican border. He has published books that examine the nature of urban space in such cities as Paris, Lethbridge and Toronto. His most recent book looks at the institutional space of the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario, and he is currently investigating the achievement of the Slovenian architect Jose Plecnik.

James, who lives in Toronto, is the author of more than a dozen books and monographs, and is a Fellow of the John Solomon Guggenheim Foundation and the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts. He is the recipient of several prizes, including a 2012 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He has exhibited widely, including Documenta IX, Kassel (1992), and his work has been shown and collected by such major institutions as the National Gallery in Ottawa, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.