Remembering Arthur Goss

Directed by: Jason Charters, Liam Romalis
Featuring: Arthur Goss, Michael Ondaatje, Peter MacCallum
Format: HD
Year: 2013
Produced by: Riddle Films in association with the iThentic and the City of Toronto
Distributed by: iThentic

A conversation with photographer Peter MacCallum on Arthur Goss, Toronto’s first Chief Photographer.

Arthur Goss began working for the city as an office boy when he was eleven years old. He became a draftsman and began taking pictures of city works projects because he had a budding interest in photography.  It was reason enough to make him Toronto’s first Chief Photographer in 1911, a position he held for nearly thirty years.

And in 1913, when the city began construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct, the new Chief Photographer was assigned to document the progress of the bridge.  His photos were as striking for their artistry as they were for their documentation.  Wispy figures disappearing down a railway, dwarfed by scaffolding. The frozen Don River cutting its way between two cranes reaching out to each other.  Goss’s bridge was a grand achievement in civic engineering and enterprise.

But there was more to the story than that.

Remembering Arthur Goss is a conversation with photographer Peter MacCallum on the nature of documentary photography and the impact of Goss’s work.  His photographs would later serve as inspiration for Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of Lion.  Employing some of the over 30,000 photos Goss produced, and featuring Ondaatje reading from his book, Remembering Arthur Goss employs still photography, interviews, dramatic recreations and a score by Toronto composer Omar Daniel to explore the subjective nature of photography, the elusiveness of documenting the truth, and the very human need to preserve our best version of ourselves for future generations.

To look at Arthur Goss’s photos is to see a city inventing itself.  He turned his camera equally towards civic projects and poverty and the stark living conditions of many who lived in Toronto at the time.  His images were a source of pride and a call to action.  And they offer us an incredible opportunity to see ourselves today in the context of history.