William A. Ewing is the Director of Musee de l'Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is in Toronto as one of the curators of Edward Steichen: In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Years, 1923-1937 opening this week at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Canadian-born Ewing has been behind some of the world's most celebrated photography showings. He is renowned for his knowledge of the art of photography.
I had the chance to discuss his love of the craft and why he left Canada in his pursuits of the medium Thursday night before an opening at the AGO.
William A. Ewing fell into his rich career in photography. In 1972 he was an anthropologist working as a consultant for Nortel in Montreal. He was presented with a space in a Montreal theatre.
Ewing asked the owner why he didn't open a gallery, which the owner countered with questions as to why Ewing didn't do it. After a night of tossing the idea around in his head Ewing called his friend up the next morning to see if he was serious. He was and a deal was made. After quitting his job, it took two months to set up the gallery. Ewing ran the new gallery rent free to begin. He knew that paintings would be too expensive to start out with and he loved photography. At that time there were no galleries in Montreal focusing on the art of photography.
Ewing's love of photography stems back to his exploring Pop Photography magazine. He learned about the masters.
"I love the visual."
Ewing used local artists and along with famous photographers at Optica Center for Contemporary Art in Montreal. He was in his realm, no one ever said no to him. He featured artists from throughout Canada while mixing the collections with those from Europe. He toured Canada, including Toronto during the next five years with his gallery. After five years he had a job offer in New York where he worked for the next 5 years. He then sent 5 years in London before his current appointment in Switzerland. He has been the director at Musee for the past 15 years.
He is proudly Canadian even if he doesn't wave a flag visiting often. Those visits give he said are all he needs. He loves his new home also, a small village that is just 3 hours away from Paris, Milan and other European hot spots.
"French was a challenge for me when I moved to Switzerland. I learned it there."
I commented that he was from Montreal and he smiled explaining that in the past English speaking Canadians did not learn French in school way back, even in Quebec.
Ewing told me that he loves exhibits and publishing his books but he hates catalogues stressing that they do nothing for the art.
Ewing's love of photography is evident as he gazed at the Art Gallery of Ontario's collection that he is a curator of. His eyes danced with excitement as he explained the different little details of various photographs. I was in heaven, as we walked through the gallery devouring his knowledge. A shadow here, a hand placement there...each detail adds to the photograph.
"I see something new each time I see this collection."
Listening to the explanation of a photograph of Robson I understood more about those little details. The story that was told with the camera's lens hits.
"I would rather the photographs are on the walls instead of some drawer. Some of this collection was locked away for 75, 80 years. Locked in drawers!"
Ewing is a man that lives to absorb knowledge. He wants to have all the layers that life has to offer. He motioned towards the collection.
"All of these individuals did something. They were celebrities because of their accomplishments."
Some day in the future there will be a photograph of William A. Ewing gazing out with twinkling eyes at those passing by. The curator will tell the visitors that this is a photograph of a very accomplished man. And he will be right.