The Shoebox Collection: Photographs by Irving Fistell
Produced and Curated by Steven Fistell
Almost every family has a shoebox filled with old photos tucked away in a drawer or closet. But our shoebox is special. In it are images taken by my father during the l940’s and 50’s that have danced around in my head for years. I remember my father taking pictures of the family practically from the time I was born. I can still see him setting up shots, having us pose just so. His interest in photography began back in the late 1940’s when he and his brother owned Downtown Resale, a small secondhand shop on Queen Street West in Toronto. The shop, now the site of The Sheraton Centre Hotel, sold just about anything – luggage, watches, musical instruments, tools, electrical appliances … and cameras. (Sit in the lobby and you’ll be in the camera section of the store!)
For my father, the daily grind of running a small business was alleviated by his fascination with the high-end camera equipment that constantly moved through the store. Taking advantage of his inventory, he took the cameras home and taught himself how to use them by practicing on the most readily available subject matter – his own family. Over the next decade my father continued to photograph family and friends with undiminished enthusiasm. Predominantly romantic in style, his photographs reflect the optimism and youthful passions of a newlywed with all the world before him. As far as my father is concerned, his photos are nothing more than a record of his family and he is quite content to just keep them in a box at home. In fact, most of us take our family photos for granted and can’t imagine anyone else wanting to look at them. If family photos are all about personal memories, why then, do I want to exhibit them publicly?
Perhaps I see something more in these photographs. Each picture, to me, is like a familiar smell that can instantly rekindle distant memories. Always a great source of comfort, these photos reassure me of my place in the world, of my roots. I see them as a unique gift that helps to explain who I am and from where I have come. They are a thread that ties the story of our lives together. But family photos have universal meaning, as well. They depict common experiences we can all relate to. Perhaps they are part of our collective unconscious.
Though my father would consider himself just an amateur, I have always been impressed by the artistry that elevated many of his photos beyond the typical family snapshot. My first sense of what it means to put light and shadow together, to frame an image, to see beauty in the objects around me, came from my father and his photos. In effect, I was getting a lesson in art without really knowing it. I realize now the importance of his early influence on my development as a visual artist.
My father’s images have left an indelible impression upon me. As his son, I wanted this exhibition to give his work the recognition I believe it deserves, both as art and as a valuable cultural record of everyday life. Besides, who knows how long the hands-on family photo album will survive as more of us choose to record our lives with video? The dusty old shoebox brimming with fond memories may soon become a thing of the past.
I have singled out images that I believe to be among the best of his work. I wonder, would my father have chosen the same ones? My own choices are probably as revealing as the pictures themselves.
—- Steven Fistell
I am a Toronto based artist, primarily a painter, but also create kiln glass sculpture to broaden the creative process. My work ranges over many genres, exploring each style for their art historical roots. Formerly I had been an art consultant to corporate and private collectors, art reviewer (I prefer making art instead), editorial illustrator, and last but not least, courtroom artist. If I were a cowboy, I’d be the fastest draw in the west! I have curated various art exhibits, including this one closest to my heart, “The Shoebox Collection”, re-imagining the aesthetic of an atypical family photo album. I also organize public art talks and cultural events that stretch beyond the established arts community. Having taught high school and college art, I continue to engage students of all ages and expertise with an art course called “Creative Imagination”, applying limit breaking exercises to spark latent creative potential
The Virtual Gallery @ the J is a digital home for creativity that educates, entertains and expresses shared experiences of humanity. If you have questions or would like to purchase any of the artwork, please contact Deanna Di Lello, Coordinator of Adult Art and Culture.
Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival
Virtual – access anytime