Photo Credit: Samantha Hamilton, Photo Editor
How the Montgomery Photo Collection connects its Caribbean past to its American future
Shelby Stewart, The Mike Contributor
Through the Montgomery Photo Collection, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has brought the culture and history of the Caribbean to the North American world. The culture and history of the Caribbean have often been overshadowed and hidden behind the powers of the Americas. Remnants of the Caribbean culture in the minds of those elsewhere are associated with Carnival and bright, lively people. While those are attributes that truly make up part of the West Indian identity, the eye-opening experiences of the Montgomery gallery remind us that there is more than meets the eye.
The collection showcases a “singular collection of more than 3,500 historical images from 34 countries including Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad” (AGO, 2021) and expresses the daily life which is built on the various customs and cultures from Europe, Africa, and Asia that have deeply rooted traditions within the Circum-Caribbean. The photos shown during this gallery exhibit moments of life and history throughout the Caribbean world that express the cultural heritage that has blossomed out of the harsh realities of the past. The photographs from simple family photos to clips of busy marketplaces remind us of the rich and diverse peoples that make up the West Indian Identity. In a society born out of revolution and emancipation, these photos of Caribbean daily life are not just a reminder of how people lived their lives, but how they overcame so many different obstacles to create a place of freedom for themselves and later generations.
The collection does not only include random photographs from family photo albums; it also includes landscapes, showing the physical setup of the Caribbean world from 1840-1940. Additionally, studio pictures provide a glimpse into family life and how cultures and traditions of the surrounding world found their way into Caribbean tradition. The collection also features postcards, showing the ways of travel and communication from those within and outside of the Caribbean, sharing experiences and spreading throughout the world. The gallery gives an inside look into the lives and stories of those who have often been ignored and overshadowed. Histories of the Caribbean have always been told by those who have the power to write and erase, but these movements, these screen-caps from the past, remind us that there is another story.
As someone with a Caribbean heritage and doing their studies in the Caribbean field, being able to see these photos and finally see different aspects of life that have come to brighten a place I call home is truly inspiring. The AGO Montgomery Photo Collection has brought life to the everyday rituals of the Caribbean, reminding us that it is so much more than a carnival-based culture. The Montgomery Photo Collection takes Caribbean culture and history and for the first time puts it in the spotlight, giving everyone, no matter their cultural background, a chance to see the deeper beauty within the vast culture and different people. So if you are looking for a fun activity for the weekend or to get a chance away from studying, anyone under the age of 25 can apply for a free year-long membership to the AGO and check out this wonderful eye-opening exhibit, bringing light to a different story!