Group of people smiling at a table looking Polaroids

Unknown photographer, [Group gathered inside looking at Polaroids], 1962. Black and white instant print (Polaroid Type 107), 8.5 x 10.8 cm. Purchase, with funds donated by Martha LA McCain, 2018. © Art Gallery of Ontario. 2018/982.

What Matters Most: Photographs of Black Life

August 27, 2022 - January 8, 2023

Located on Level 1 in galleries 128 and 129.

Admission is always FREE for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass Holders & Visitors 25 and under. Learn more.


This exhibition features the AGO’s Fade Resistance Collection. Assembled by Toronto artist Zun Lee, the collection gathers Polaroid instant prints of African-American family life from the 1960s to the early 2000s. This debut presentation of more than 500 instant prints – including portraits, graduations, birthdays and family reunions – is a meditation on the role of family photographs in creating and maintaining a sense of Black identity, on memory and loss, on the ethics of institutional versus communal care, and on the importance of safeguarding visual culture. 

What Matters Most is co-curated by Zun Lee and Sophie Hackett, AGO Curator, Photography.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a hardcover publication, co-published by the AGO and Delmonico Books/D.A.P., with texts by Lee and Hackett, as well as by poet and essayist Dawn Lundy Martin, and cultural theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harney.


Book cover for exhibition catalogue

This powerful collection highlights the importance of snapshots in Black American life: as tools to challenge stereotypes, and as a way to document family and culture.

These vivid images chronicle milestones such as weddings, birthdays and graduations, as well as quiet daily moments, offering contemporary views long ignored or erased by mainstream culture. Together, these works highlight the role snapshots have played in Black life, as tools to challenge stereotypical portrayals and as a means to memorialize family, culture and heritage.

Topics such as self-representation, visual history and the social power of photographs are addressed in critical texts by Sophie Hackett, Stefano Harney, Zun Lee and Fred Moten, and an original contribution by celebrated poet Dawn Lundy Martin.

Hardcover: 224 pages
Item Weight: 2.5 pounds


Be the first to find out about AGO exhibitions and events, get the behind-the-scenes scoop and book tickets before it’s too late.
You can unsubscribe at any time.