'A master of his craft': Island photographer Lionel Stevenson remembered through his work

Lionel Stevenson, born in 1939 in New Glasgow, P.E.I., leaves legacy of photographs including many that capturing a changing P.E.I.

Career included studying with famous U.S. photographer Berenice Abbott and capturing P.E.I.'s elders

A self-portrait of Lionel Stevenson. Stevenson was a master printer, and documented P.E.I. in his photographs. (Lionel Stevenson)

P.E.I. lost an artist Monday who spent a lifetime capturing the Island's beauty and its people.

Lionel Stevenson was born in New Glasgow, P.E.I., in 1939 and died with his wife, painter Terry Dunton Stevenson by his side. He was 77.

This image, titled Longing, is a giclée print. Stevenson digitized all of his photographs. (Lionel Stevenson)

"What a loss to the P.E.I. arts community," said award-winning photographer and author John Sylvester. Sylvester came to know Stevenson's work when he first arrived in P.E.I. in 1982 to attend the Holland College School of Visual Arts. 

'Honest, constructive and encouraging'

"He stood out as a master of his craft and I occasionally — and nervously — took some of my work to him to critique. He was honest, constructive and encouraging. He even hired me to do some black and white printing for him." 

Stevenson was a master printer. In 1968 he had the opportunity to assist one of the best silver printers of the 20th century, legendary American photographer Berenice Abbot.

This image is called McSorleys, and was taken in New York City. This is what Stevenson called a 're-strike' of a Berenice Abbot photograph, part of a series called Changing New York, photographed in 1935 to 1939. Stevenson printed photos for her in 1968-69 for exhibits at the MOMA and the Smithsonian. (Lionel Stevenson/Berenice Abbot)

He used the skills learned from Abbot to restore one of the most important photographs in Canadian history, The Fathers of Confederation

Stevenson was also exposed to the style of documentary photography, capturing everyday life, which he continued to pursue when he returned to work in Canada. 

Lionel Stevenson referred to Milton Acorn — the subject of this photograph — as Canada's finest poet. The P.E.I. poet was known as "the people's poet." (Lionel Stevenson)

Documenting the Island

"We are grateful that we had the opportunity to work closely with Lionel on a survey exhibition of his photographs (1962-2012) and to have co-published a book with Acorn Press, 2012, which documents and acknowledges Stevenson's important contribution to photography in Canada," said Kevin Rice, director of the Confederation Centre Gallery in an email. 

Robert Gallant, a silver print from the 1985 project Elders of the Island. The portfolio is in the collections of the Confederation Centre of the Arts and the National Gallery of Canada and features 30 people who have made significant contributions to their community. (Lionel Stevenson)

"His major body of work is an important legacy. The Confederation Centre Art Gallery has collected 11 of his photographs for the collection and most recently the very significant portfolio, Elders of the Island, with its 30 wonderful portraits."

This image, Handicappers: The usual suspects, can be found in the book The Island. (Lionel Stevenson)

Stevenson also published The Island — a collection of black and white photos from around P.E.I.

Tweel's corner in downtown Charlottetown. (Lionel Stevenson)

Keeping up with technology

Technology had a huge influence on photography during Stevenson's life and he kept up with it. He switched to digital once convinced he could maintain control of his work.

This image is titled The red boat. Stevenson liked to capture colour as he saw colour. (Lionel Stevenson)

His life's portfolio includes landscapes, portraits, architecture, advertising, nature and humorous shots. Stevenson's work can be found in public and private collections across Canada. 

This photograph called Pregnant Hill was captured in 1971, and printed in 2011. (Lionel Stevenson )

A private memorial service for Lionel Stevenson will be held at a later date. 

The photographs featured in this story have been used with the permission of Terry Dunton Stevenson and the Confederation Centre of the Arts. 

Terry Dunton Stevenson is captured in foreground of this photograph, titled Reverie. (Lionel Stevenson )
This image is titled Bungay Barn. (Lionel Stevenson)


Karen Mair is an award-winning journalist and an 'Islander by choice.' Since 1986 she's worked as a host, producer, reporter and social media presenter. These days, you'll find Karen reporting for digital and radio.