56 negatives : b&w, 1 col. ; 18 x 13 cm or smaller
Al Gilbert was born on November 18, 1922 in Toronto. His father Nathan Gittelmacher [Gilbert] owned a photography studio, called Elite Studios, where Al began to learn the photography trade. Al went to Central Technical High School for commercial art and started working at his father's store after he graduated at the age of 19. Al returned to school as an adult and earned his Master of Photography and Photographic Craftsmen degree from the Professional Photographers of America.
Al took over Gilbert Studios and moved to a larger location on Eglinton Street and then later to Davenport Road. Al married, and he and his wife Gail had two children named Nina and Michael.
Al began his career following in the tradition of his father photographing weddings and other significant events in the community. However, he also expanded his repertoire to include series of portraits documenting different cultural and religious groups. While still making a name for himself, Al arranged a deal with a local radio station -- CKEY -- that had a promotional programme called Club 580. The programme was designed to draw music celebrities down to an auditorium where school kids would get the chance to see them. He approached the station, asking if he could photograph these musicians, and in exchange, provide the station with picture postcards depicting the musicians. Some of the entertainers he photographed during this period included: Oscar Peterson, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie. One of his most personally significant series documents all of Israel's Prime Ministers starting in 1959 with David Ben Gurion up until the late 1990s. Most recently, Al finished a series of portraits depicting prominent Italian Canadian men and women.
One of Al Gilbert's photographic influences was George Hurrell, whose portraits of Hollywood movie starts were backlit with spotlights creating a glamorous effect. In 1943, Gilbert started to introduce some of Hurrell's lighting techniques into his portraits. He was constantly changing the window displays at his store to draw attention to his latest techniques and attract a new clientele. Twenty years later, still fascinated with lighting, Al started using more window lighting and doing outdoor photography; he also perfected the technique of simulating natural light using artificial sources of light.
Al Gilbert built his reputation as a portrait photographer. Due to his innovative style and the prominence of his subjects, Al's work has received much recognition -- he has been given the Canadian Photographer of the Year in 1968, 1969, and 1973 from the Professional Photographers of Canada. He was awarded the Order of Canada and held the Confederate Medal of Canada. In addition, he was also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Photographic Industry of America and the International Award from the American Society of Photographers.
Scope and Content
Series consists of portraits taken by Al Gilbert. The portraits depict prominent individuals from the Toronto Jewish community, Jewish clubs, politicians, and several well-known personalities including the comedians Wayne and Shuster.
All portraits were selected with the exception of duplicates and portraits where the issue of ownership remains unresolved because the photographer is unknown.