This paper is a detailed description and analysis of the Art Gallery of Ontario’s 1984 exhibition Responding to Photography: Selected Works from Private Toronto Collections. One of the first original photography exhibitions organized by the gallery and Maia-Mari Sutnik, the 156 works were drawn entirely from private Toronto collections. The exhibition would come to shape the collecting policy of the photography collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario and set it apart from other institutions across Canada. The selected works represented a generalist collecting philosophy (influenced by Sam Wagstaff) that included photographs by anonymous makers and those made for purposes other than art. Through an analysis of the institution’s historical relationship with photography as well as the context in which the show was developed, this paper proposes that Sutnik’s exhibition is a significant historic marker and indicative of the status of photography in Toronto during the 1980s, a time of increased international prominence for the medium.