By Stacey Askew
Image Arts professor Donald Arthur Dickinson will be remembered for his dry humour and love of books, students and faculty said as they gathered Thursday for a memorial. Dickinson passed away April 1, at age 65 during his recovery from cancer surgery.
An expert in historical and alternative photographic processes, Dickinson brought new ideas about photography to the school. He urged students to consult books and prints to help them make the most of their learning.
“He had knowledge of books we didn’t know about,” said Phil Bergerson, Dickinson’s colleague and good friend. Dickinson also stressed the importance of teaching creative aspects of photography alongside the technical aspects.
Dickinson was due to retire at the end of this semester. At the service, students and colleagues gathered remembered a man who, through donations of books and prints, will continue to inspire and educate.
“He just donated them all, even though they would be worth a lot of money … he said they were there to be used,” Emily Lockhart, a fourth-year photography student said of Dickinson’s at the memorial.
Dickinson’s brother Jon said the professor first discovered photography in high school. “Someone (at the school) introduced it to him and then all of a sudden he just took off with a huge interest in it.”
When Jon visited Toronto, Dickinson gave him a tour of the then new Image Arts building. He said Dickinson was excited about working at Ryerson for numerous reasons and considered it an opportunity to make an already enterprising school even better.
“He sometimes said,” Jon added, “in my field, I think I could be an outstanding photographer or try to become an outstanding teacher.”
Bergerson met Dickinson for the first time when he was a student at Ryerson. The school was considering hiring him and he gave a lecture to Bergerson’s class as a test. Later Dickinson, having seen some of Bergerson’s work, asked if he was interested in becoming a professor. He accepted and planned to stay for a few years, but ended up staying longer. Bergerson is also retiring this year. The two planned to spend time to travel together.
Bergerson and Dickinson started coming to work earlier in the last few months to finish business before retiring. “I would come in earlier and earlier, and every morning he’d be there before me. Suddenly he just got sick,” said Bergerson.
A fierce defender of students’ education and the Image Arts school, Dickinson was one of the professors who insisted the new Image Arts building have a photo gallery. When a rumor spread this year that class hours could be cut from 18 to 15 hours, Dickinson fought the cutback. “Professors were united in support of this and Don was fighting to preserve the three hours of theoretical education,” said Lockhart.
Don Snyder, Chair of Image Arts, remembers Dickinson being on the hiring committee during his interview. He remembers Dickinson spending more time scrutinizing his work than anyone else. “I got the impression of someone who was really committed to what he was doing. That was something that was really constant in his life,” said Snyder.
Dickinson had a tendency to ask questions rather than provide answers, but students said he always understood what they were trying to say. “If I couldn’t explain myself properly it didn’t matter, Don understood where I was going with my idea before I could articulate it,” said Larissa Issler, Dickinson’s teaching assistant and former student.
A formal memorial will be held in May.