AN EX-NUN'S IMAGES ARE LIKE A LOVE LETTER TO TORONTO, A CRY OF HOPE FROM THE PAST IN A RACIALLY CHARGED MOMENT:
An exhibition of photos launching Nov. 14 at the Cardinal Gallery captures many moments in Toronto life from the 1960s to early 1970s. But even more so, the 36 images featured in “Love Isn’t Limited” are glimpses into the humanity of Joan Latchford, the woman who took them.
By all accounts, Latchford was an extraordinary person. A former nun who adopted six children in addition to her biological offspring, who welcomed hundreds of draft dodgers and new immigrants into her home for companionship and assistance. A talented photojournalist who documented the energy of the city’s first Caribana festival in 1967, and the Hare Krishnas and bustling patio crowds mixing on lively Yonge Street.
There are a few celebrity shots in the show, as musical legends Marvin Gaye and B.B. King light up local stages. In another photo, Bob Marley casually kicks a soccer ball as one of Latchford’s kids looks on from the background.
It’s her photos of children, unaware of an adult’s observations, where Latchford’s keen eye for detail and sense of humour shine. (The children include many of her own.) A toddler is mesmerized by his own image in a mirror at the old Simpsons store, where Latchford worked as a staff trainer and met many new immigrants looking for work. In another charming photo that looks like a still from “The Little Rascals,” a young boy attempts to climb up on a bike with a seat that towers above his head, while his friend or perhaps older brother looks on, his one arm held inside a dirty cast and sling.
Ben Latchford and his siblings grew up with their mother wearing her camera from morning to night. “I don’t remember a time when she didn’t have it,” he says. “To us kids, it was like a piece of jewelry that she wore, and her taking photos of us and others was very second nature.”
As executor of his mother’s estate, Ben estimates there are thousands of negatives, 90 per cent of which have never been seen before.
It would be easy to compare Latchford’s prolific output to Vivian Maier, who captured life on the streets of Chicago, leaving behind more than 100,000 negatives when her archive was discovered in 2007 at a local auction house. But where Maier stealthily hid her photography from even the few people who knew her, Latchford was fully engaged with people who became her subjects.
In the 1960s, while working for the National Film Board’s still photos division, Latchford was assigned to take shots of various Black communities. A decade later in the late 1970s, she attended Howard University, a historically Black college where she studied Afro-American culture and anthropology, wanting to better understand the perspective of five of her adoptive children who are Black. She put great effort into properly setting exposures and lighting for various skin tones, which helped her gain trust with prospective subjects. In an interview, she once said she wanted to dispel stereotypes and to photograph people “as they live their lives, at play, at home, on the street.”
Ben Latchford went to high school with Cardinal Gallery co-owner Chelsea Hulme, a former film producer, and he has remained trusted friends with Hulme and her husband, cinematographer Cory Wilyman, who is also a photographer. Ben also appreciates that the couple both grew up in the neighbourhoods featured in his mom’s photos.
Cardinal Gallery is a sunny, welcoming space with gleaming, wide-planked, dark floors and a cosy backyard (perfect for physically distanced launch parties) on Davenport, near Dovercourt. It’s a welcome addition to Toronto’s art scene as one of only a few galleries in town that focuses on photography, in particular featuring high-end, limited-edition prints. Hulme and Wilyman, who are recent empty nesters, spent a year renovating their dream project, rushing their March 7 launch of a survey exhibition of work by photojournalist Russell Monk.
“We always wanted a gallery and this was the perfect time to move into this new chapter,” recalls Wilyman.
A week later, the city shut down for COVID-19 restrictions.