al gilbert

Al Gilbert C.M., F.R.P.S.

Background, History and Achievements of Al Gilbert C .M., F.R.P.S.

AI Gilbert's father Nathan opened the Elite Photography Studio on Queen Street West in 1922. AI began working there during the 1940s and took over the business when his father retired. Now in its 88th year, Gilbert Studio continues the tradition of excellence and innovation that has always characterized this master photographer's work.

Al Gilbert was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1990 and awarded the Confederation Medal of Canada in 1992. Dubbed the “Ambassador of Canadian Photography", he is known internationally for his classic portraits of prominent people. For example: Oscar Peterson, Senator Pamela Wallin, Chief Justice Bora Laskin, Raymond Moriyama, Liona Boyd, Vice-President Joe Biden and the Prime Ministers of Israel.

He is also known for his unparalleled contribution to the life of the local community. His photographs of many Toronto families and institutions celebrating important events are cherished by generations of admirers. For example, two permanent exhibitions consisting of 127 photographs have transformed the Baycrest Centre. The Oscar Peterson Public School in Mississauga is home to nine different portraits of the famous jazz pianist, donated by AI to inspire its young music students.

In 2009 -2010, exhibitions of his work at Toronto's Beth Tzedec synagogue gallery and The Miles Nadal Centre, organized by the Ontario Jewish Archives, drew critical acclaim from every quarter. "Facets of Fame: The Portraits of AI Gilbert” at Toronto 's historic Market Gallery from April 22 - September 11, 2010 was seen by 7500 people from all over the world. This remarkable exhibition of sixty-one portraits with detailed biographical captions included some of his best work from the holdings of the OJA. A full list and media coverage of the exhibit may be seen at

AI Gilbert is the most prominent and successful portrait photographer in Canada today because he is simply the best there is. This is attested to by the body of his work consisting of over 20,000 files, the expert opinions of curators and critics, and the numerous awards and tributes bestowed upon him by his fellow photographers. Gilbert portraits are deemed to be of “outstanding significance and cultural importance” by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

He is a Fellow of the Professional Photographers of Canada, a Fellow of the American Society of Photographers and a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain. He was voted Photographer of the Year three times and a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Professional Photographers of Canada. In 1994 he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Photographic Industry of America and the International Award from the American Society of Photographers. In 2007, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Professional Photographers of America, one of only seven people to have received the award and the only Canadian ever to be so honoured.

The Bosnia Medal from the Professional Photographers of Bosnia and the China Citation from the Chinese Association of Photographers have also bestowed honour on Mr. Gilbert.

AI Gilbert has created two books: “A Portfolio” (1994)- a 100-page volume with 40 portraits, commentary and lighting diagrams, and “AI Gilbert Master of Portraiture” (2002) a 160-page book with more than 60 portraits, diagrams and commentary in English and Chinese. He is still active as a portrait photographer and speaker, having given presentations to professional groups and photography students in 24 countries around the world, 40 of the 50 US states and all the Canadian Provinces. His 2010 speech to the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto may be seen at