222 photographs (negatives, prints, jpg) : col. and b&w ; 18 x 13 cm and smaller
Scope and Content
Accession consists of photographs which document the Gilbert family and Gilbert Studios. Photographs of the Gilbert family are predominately portraits of Nina and the children during the 1920s and 1930s. The Gilbert Studios material largely consist of portraits of members of the Jewish community and fashion and wedding photographs. Also included in the accession are both negatives and a print of the Elite Studios storefront taken in 1923. Other notable photograph subjects in the accession include the B. Sherman Hardware storefront, Lou and Nat Turofsky, Harry Sonshine, Leon Weinstein, J. Irving Oelbaum, and Alex Levinsky. All images in the accession are black and white except for a print of Nathan Phillips.
The photographs were donated in 2008 and notes indicate that the archivist was awaiting documentation from Jack Gilbert. Since that time, some materials have been returned to the donor upon request. Previous archivists placed the negatives in acid-free envelopes and scanned a portion of the material. The original conservation report for the glass negatives completed in 2008 evaluated 42 glass negatives, but only 26 remain in this accession.
Nachman "Nathan" Gittelmacher was born in Kiev, Ukraine in 1898, the son of Shloima and Mattie Gittelmacher. Suffering terribly during the pogroms of 1918 and 1920, he fled from place to place and then emigrated to Canada in 1921. Trained as a photographer in Europe, he opened his own photography studio in Toronto in 1922, called Elite Studios. First located at 513 Queen Street West, he soon moved to 615 Queen Street West. Nathan serviced a largely Jewish clientele, photographing weddings, bar mitzvahs, as well as Jewish community events.
Nathan was married to Nina Sokoloff and they had three sons and a daughter: Louis ("Lou"), Albert ("Al"), Jack, and Ruth.
During the early 1940s, the family legally changed their name from Gittelmacher to Gilbert and subsequently altered the name of the business to Gilbert Studios. When Nathan moved to the United States, Al, who had been working there since a young age, took over the business and under his management it thrived. In order to accommodate his growing clientele, he moved the studio to Eglinton Avenue and later to 170 Davenport Road, where it is situated today.
Al made a name for himself as a portrait photographer, using natural light in innovative ways to create more natural looking portraits. Al’s primary work involved producing portraits of families, weddings, bar mitzvahs, special events, and dinners. Most of his early clients were from the Jewish community. In turn, he also was paid to produce portraits of local entrepreneurs, and his multi-year contract with the city gave him sole responsibility for the production of portraits of the mayors and councilmen and women. He later branched out beyond the Jewish community, and began to produce images of businessmen and leaders from the Italian community in Toronto.
In addition to the paid contracts involving local personalities and groups, Al Gilbert has produced many artistic portraits of local, national, and international celebrities as well as artists and leaders such as Wayne and Shuster, Howie Mandel, Oscar Peterson, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Robertson Davies, several Canadian prime ministers, Prince Charles, Israel's prime ministers (these portraits were made into stamps by Israel's government), and, finally, the last pope. Gilbert’s work therefore captures a huge range of individuals from the ordinary bride to extraordinary world leaders.
Al has won many awards as well as accolades from his peers throughout his career. He is the three-time recipient of the prestigious Professional Photographers of Canada (PPOC) Photographer of the year honour. He has been named Fellow of the photographic societies in Canada, Britain and the United States. In 1990, he was awarded the Order of Canada. In January 2007, the Professional Photographers of America presented him with their Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is the highest honor PPA can bestow on a person for their body of work and influence on professional photography.
Copyright may not be held by the Ontario Jewish Archives. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain permission prior to use.
Related material note: see fonds 37 and accessions 2007-12-17, 2007-12-18, 2008-4-7, 2008-6-12, 2009-5-2, 2009-7-8