Welcome back! Our galleries have reopened. Plan your visit and read our FAQ

Skip Navigation
A red lunar landscape with trails of light.
Fig. 1

Eva Stenram, Per Pulverem Ad Astra (detail), 2007, chromogenic prints made from negatives exposed to dust. Courtesy of the artist, source images courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

David Campany’s groundbreaking exhibition explores the visual representation of dust in 20th-century photography, this winter at the Ryerson Image Centre

Nov. 27, 2019

This winter, the Ryerson Image Centre will present A Handful of Dust: From the Cosmic to the Domestic, an exhibition focused on the visual representation of dust in photography, both as an element of the everyday and as poetic allegory. The exhibition opens with a public reception on January 22, 6–8 pm.  

Conceived by David Campany, an acclaimed independent curator and critic based in New York, A Handful of Dust covers a wide range of subjects, including aerial reconnaissance, the American dust bowl, Mussolini’s final car journey, and the wars in Iraq. Featuring modern and contemporary works by over 30 international artists, including Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Gerhard Richter, Sophie Ristelhueber, and Jeff Wall, the exhibition also showcases anonymous press photographs, postcards, magazine spreads, and films.

A Handful of Dust challenges the notion that photographs are evidential, emphasizing instead their ambiguous nature and the way that meaning is derived from the context in which they are viewed. The exhibition takes as its starting point an iconic photograph by American avant-garde artist Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915–1923), a work in progress that had been left to gather dust in his studio. First reproduced in October 1922 in the Surrealist French journal Littérature, Man Ray’s image was given the misleading title View From an Aeroplane. Republished over the years with various captions and titles, the photograph was formally named Dust Breeding in 1964. 

“Over time I came to realize that looking at this photograph and all the different ways it was published and all the resonances it had with other photographs, you could come to quite a sophisticated understanding of photography and an interesting understanding of the twentieth century,” says Campany. 

Also published in October 1922 was the influential poem by American writer T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land, which reflected on the devastation of World War I. The poem includes the line “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” from which the title of the exhibition is drawn. 

Contemporary highlights include Kirk Palmer’s video, Murmur (2006), which explores the natural beauty of Japan’s landscapes, still haunted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Canadian photographer Robert Burley’s work Implosions of Buildings 65 and 69, Kodak Park, Rochester, NY [#1], October 6, 2007 (2007) shows the destruction of the headquarters of the once-preeminent film manufacturer, reflecting the abrupt and dramatic demise of a century-old industry. Xavier Ribas’ installation Nomads (2008) documents an empty industrial plot in Barcelona where sixty Roma families were displaced after diggers were hired to break up the concrete surface to make it uninhabitable. In Per Pulverem Ad Astra (2007), Eva Stenram produced negatives from NASA’s digital Mars images, then allowed them to gather dust and hair in her apartment before printing them, creating landscapes that combine the otherworldly and the familiar. 

"David Campany's innovative perspectives on the history of photography have profoundly impacted our current thinking about the uses, public reception, and social force of the medium,” says RIC Director Paul Roth. “We’re very pleased to bring this fascinating exhibition to Toronto audiences."

A Handful of Dust was originally exhibited at Le Bal, Paris (2015-2016), and has since travelled to the Pratt Institute, New York (2016), Whitechapel Gallery, London (2017), the California Museum of Photography, Riverside (2018), and Polygon Gallery, North Vancouver (2019), before coming to the Ryerson Image Centre. It will be shown next at the National Center of Photography and Images in Taipei, Taiwan (May 15–August 23, 2020). The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue published by MACK. 

On view from January 22 to April 5, 2020, A Handful of Dust is guest curated by David Campany. The exhibition is generously supported by media sponsors the Toronto Star and The Walrus. 

Based in New York, U.S.A., David Campany is one of the most acclaimed photography experts of our time. He has published widely and curated a number of important exhibitions, including Walker Evans: The Magazine Work and The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip (both 2014). For his writing, he has received the ICP Infinity Award, the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award, the Alice Award, the Deutscher Fotobuchpreis, and the Royal Photographic Society’s award for writing. Campany is co-founder and co-editor of PA Magazine, which has been published since 2008.

Laure Albin Guillot, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Brassaï, Robert Burley, John Divola, Marcel Duchamp, Walker Evans, Mona Kuhn, Scott McFarland, Jeff Mermelstein, Bruce Nauman, Louise Oates, Kirk Palmer, Man Ray, Alain Resnais, Xavier Ribas, Gerhard Richter, Sophie Ristelhueber, Edward Ruscha, Aaron Siskind, Giorgio Sommer, Eva Stenram, Shomei Tomatsu, Jeff Wall, Nick Waplington, Wols, Tereza Zelenkova.

Winter Exhibitions Opening Party
Wednesday, January 22, 6–8 pm

Curators in Conversation: David Campany with Sara Knelman
Wednesday, January 29, 7 pm
Location TBA (check website for details)

Special Exhibition Tour of A Handful of Dust with Paul Roth
Wednesday, March 18, 6 pm

Tanenbaum Lecture: Sophie Ristelhueber in conversation with Marc Mayer
Wednesday, March 25, 7 pm
Location TBA (check website for details)

All events take place at the Ryerson Image Centre (33 Gould Street) unless otherwise noted. A full schedule of events is available via ryersonimagecentre.ca/events.

Ryerson Image Centre
33 Gould Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Free exhibition tours daily at 2:30 pm
Follow us @RICgallery
The Ryerson Image Centre (RIC) exists for the research, teaching and exhibition of photography and related media. We are an active partner within the academic fabric of Ryerson University, the cultural network of greater Toronto, and the national and international artistic community. We develop rigorous yet inclusive programs for students, faculty, artists, researchers and curators, as well as the general public. The RIC boasts three interrelated areas of activity. Our exhibition program addresses topics of social, cultural, aesthetic and historical concern from a variety of contemporary perspectives. Our Peter Higdon Research Centre conducts and facilitates inquiry into primary resource materials and offers workshops, lectures, symposia and publication programs. Finally, we maintain a collection of photography spanning the medium’s history, as well as several artist and journalism archives—including the renowned Black Star Collection of twentieth century photoreportage. For more information, visit ryersonimagecentre.ca
Ryerson University is Canada's leader in innovative, career-oriented education and a university clearly on the move. With a mission to serve societal need, and a long-standing commitment to engaging its community, Ryerson offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. Distinctly urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, the university is home to more than 41,500 students, including 2,400 master's and PhD students, 3,200 faculty and staff, and nearly 170,000 alumni worldwide. Research at Ryerson is on a trajectory of success and growth: externally funded research has doubled in the past five years. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education. For more information, visit www.ryerson.ca
- 30 -
Media Contact:  
Kristen Dobbin, Ryerson Image Centre
kristendobbin@ryerson.ca / 416-979-5000 x7032