The Black Star Collection’s journey to Toronto hasn’t quite been as dramatic as the flight of its Jewish creator, Ernest Mayer, from the Nazis. But its recent landing at Ryerson University — which acquired nearly 300,000 Black Star images with the help of an anonymous donor — caps a colorful history.
Ryerson will unveil the collection, and a $70-million “Image Centre” purpose-built to house it, at a grand opening September 29. The collection is “the single largest gift of cultural property ever made to a Canadian university,” according to a Ryerson press release. Ryerson — which launched Canada’s first graduate program in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management — wouldn’t identify the donor, but did note “no Jewish connection” to the gift.
It’s hard to picture in an age of smartphones and Pinterest, but Black Star looms large in the history of 20th-century journalism — and of the century itself. Its photographers included Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, Britain’s Bill Brandt and Germaine Krull, a pioneering female lenser. Black Star photo essays documented century-defining events from World War II to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights movement, and iconic news-portrait subjects ranged from Marilyn Monroe to Muhammad Ali to Marc Chagall to Fidel Castro.