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Toronto, ON, M6J 1Y2

Monday to Friday

9AM - 5PM

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Irene Fay: In Her Own Words

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The photographic practice of Irene Fay spanned nearly half a century, amassing a body of work that gives viewers a chance to see the world through her eyes. She photographed the things and people that surrounded her, often while cooking and raising her children. Though she had a keen photographic eye, she was also a master in the darkroom, using her skills to transform her images into photographic objects that evoke a sense of mystery.

To introduce collectors to Irene’s captivating body of work, available exclusively via FFOTO, we have collected some of her own thoughts on her practice to share with you here.

"Self Portrait", undated, by Irene Fay "Self Portrait", undated

Irene Fay on: The Spark

“How did this all begin?”

“Long ago when I did not know yet that photography will be my obsession, I wrecked a car, and my father decided to give me a Rolleiflex camera as a graduation present instead of the automobile he had promised. It seemed a safer toy. This rebuke proved a blessing in disguise - a true gift. The Rolleiflex has provided joy and excitement throughout the many phases of my life.”

This gift lit a passion in Irene, ultimately deciding the fate of her lifelong vocation.

"Skater, Arosa, Switzerland", 1946, by Irene Fay"Skater, Arosa, Switzerland", 1946

Irene Fay on: Her Subjects

Irene’s photographs are an invitation – a beckoning for us to witness her world, and everything in it. Her subject matter reflects that, often illustrating themes of lightness surrounded by darkness.

“I do not stalk prey to shoot. I merely wait attentively until a spell is cast on me. Until the images seem to call me - me and the Rolleiflex - to play with them.”

“The goal, in Vladimir Nabokov's words, is to: ‘... obtain translucent miniatures, pocket wonderlands, that little world of hushed luminous hues ....’ To achieve this, I must coax my subjects out of their dark or hidden backgrounds - to get as close as possible in order to discover the unseen; and mostly it appears in a chiaroscuro fashion. Because these images are done in black and white, they appear slightly removed from reality; lack of color seems to enhance their unreal aspects.”

“My own photographs, I am often told, convey a sense of peacefulness, loneliness or mystery. Yet I appear to be a rather lively, even gregarious person. Nor do I have any recurrent themes - absolutely anything can serve as my subject matter.”

"On the Line - His Shirt", 1977, by Irene Fay"On the Line - His Shirt", 1977

Irene Fay on: The Secret Art of Photography

For Irene, the making of her photographs didn’t stop once light hit the film. She understood light and how to use it, and her printing techniques in the darkroom were just as important as the image itself, allowing her to transform those images into enigmatic photographic objects.

“A film, coated with a light-sensitive chemical can reflect, recreate, project, memorize, research and express the deepest feelings, and it is the truth. The truth if it is handled knowingly.”

“Once captured, however, the image wants to be developed and enlarged: the final step in this secret art of photography. In the darkroom, a miracle takes place on an ordinary doubleweight sheet of 8" x 1 O" photographic paper swimming in a tray of chemicals. Slowly, the image I caught emerges and surfaces on the wet and gentle paper, dazzlingly complete in miniature.”

"Emilie's Hair, Naples, Florida", 1979, by Irene Fay"Emilie's Hair, Naples, Florida", 1979

Irene Fay on: What Drives Her Practice

Irene considered photography her obsession, with the intention of creating a miniature photographic world of her own.

“My photographs are the outcome of an intensity fueled by a mixture of optics, chemistry and my own mysterious needs. And the fusion of motivation and method, the combination of style and theme, is just too intricate and too difficult to unravel. It is a secret - as though a film strip wished to remain a puzzle rather than a solution, a riddle rather than an answer - a toy.”

“Captured just before it vanishes, and locked in the mysterious darkness of the camera, the image becomes mine. A glimpse of life seen through light has been selected and reduced to a transparent square, and a bit of the immense universe seems to have become easier to store. Perhaps it is my dream to possess a perfectly arranged miniature world of my own, always at my command.”

"Sky Lights", 1985, by Irene Fay"Sky Lights", 1985


Order one of Irene Fay's photographs

Read our interview with Irene's close associate, Vance Stevens

Read our biography - Irene Fay: The Diamonds are in the Enlarger

Read about preparing the archive for FFOTO in Cataloguing the Collection