Overview Of The Section
Michel Lambeth’s Toronto
Lambeth worked in isolation. There was no tradition of art photography in the 1950s, and little preoccupation with the aesthetics of city life, or of Toronto as a living entity. Lambeth came across a cache of early photos of Toronto commissioned by various City departments at the turn of the century. He published these in a limited edition, Editions Grafikos, which was printed by Stan Bevington at The Coach House Press in 1967, and with the title Made In Canada.
It wasn’t only Toronto Michel was thinking about when he published these pictures. Three years earlier, his photo-essay of a poor, rural community in Québec’s Gaspésie called “A Candle for St. Nil” was rejected by the Star Weekly. It was too stark for readers, he was told. They wanted photos that were “uplifting”. Read On →
Lambeth referred to his genre of photography as “documentary humanism”. He was very conscious about his purpose which was to see Toronto at street level. He was no voyeur, though. He identified with the city he saw. And he saw it with the eyes of an engaged citizen. He was the very essence of the “free-lance conscience with a camera”.
While his subjects were eclectic, there are themes in his Toronto portrait. The children, for example; he was a sucker for kids, especially kids he caught playing in unsupervised places. (Do such things exist today? ) And political action — people meeting, protesting, campaigning, marching, celebrating. He also revelled in close-ups and details — sewer grills, the ornate masonry of bank entrances, grave markers — appreciated for the abstract pattern as much as the thumbnail history. Read On →
His name is Michel Lambeth. Born Thomas Henry Lambeth in Toronto’s east end, he was in his early thirties when he first took to the streets with his camera. He’d gone to war at twenty, served as a tank gunner in Western Europe, and when he was demobbed in ’45 stayed on in London and Paris to study art.
Michel came home in 1952 with a wife and new name, which didn’t mean he was settling down — only that he was settling into the Bohemian life of a practising artist. He took a day job as a treasury clerk at City Hall, and after-hours continued with his real work. In Paris he’d studied sculpture with Ossip Zadkine, and exhibited some drawings. He started writing in Europe, too, and for a time worked seriously on a novel. Now he began experimenting with film, and as part of the Production Unit of the Toronto Film Society won a prize for his first effort, Eight-Fifteen.
Then one day in 1955 he picked up his new 2¼” Rolleiflex and took a trip to St. Lawrence Market. Almost immediately he knew he’d found his true medium. He’d also found his subject. Read On →