Nir Bareket, Toronto photographer, 1939-2015


Toronto-based photographer Nir Bareket, who died on May 12, had “a keen ability to draw our eyes towards people and places that we look away from,” according to Dara Solomon, director of the Ontario Jewish Archives, which holds many of his photographs.

Born in pre-state Israel in 1939, Bareket worked as a Madison Avenue commercial photographer in the 1960s and served as chief photographer of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem for three years before moving to Toronto in 1975.

His work was diverse: he photographed homeless people, scenes from the Toronto theatre world, views of Toronto and Amsterdam and other cities, the Don Jail, Ellis Island before it was renovated, and scenes of Canadian students participating in the March of the Living in Poland and Israel.

His images conveyed a sense of bleak despair, yet also light and hope. The images in his Don Jail series were the first photographs by a living contemporary photographer acquired by the City of Toronto Archives. 

“Nir Bareket’s photos catch the essence of the mood of the jail: sombre, severe, inhuman, without a soft edge,” former Toronto mayor John Sewell told The CJN last year, adding that a copy of Bareket’s photo of the jail’s main entrance hangs in his own home. 

Bareket had numerous solo exhibitions, including the 50-year retrospective, Nir Bareket: My Eyes Have Seen, that was on view for several months last year at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Market Gallery.

“During the last couple of decades, searching for meaning became my main focus,” he said at the time. “Now, after my first 50 years as a photographer, the search continues. Photography is not a sprint, it is a marathon.”