The Contact Photography Festival sells itself as being the world’s largest photography festival – but its critics are unmoved by this, suggesting its numbers are the result of the festival curators not being more discerning of what gets shown. “For every major installation or world-class exhibition, there are ten small cafes showing mediocre work hung from laundry clips,” says a prominent Canadian photographer. “It’s discouraging – what is there worth seeing, ultimately?”
In answer to this, ARTINFO Canada has pored over this year’s manifold offerings, and compiled a short list of five strong showings. From a lauded series featuring google streetview, to a stunning collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson, there are many diamonds in the rough. You just have to know what you’re looking for.
1. In celebration of the Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art releasing its twenty-fifth issue of Prefix Photo magazine, editor Scott McLeod opens a rare showing of lauded Montréal artist, Pascal Grandmaison. “Half of the Darkness,” an exhibition curated by McLeod and opening May 3rd, is the second iteration of the artist’s impressive installation at Casino Luxembourg, spring 2011. The exhibition is accompanied by art historian Anja Bock’s magazine feature, which discusses Grandmaison's photographic and video work since 2006, with an emphasis on the monumental "Half of the Darkness," Bock argues that Grandmaison uses strategies of indirection (such as reversal, doubling and inversion) to call attention to the "visualization error" of the photographic and modernist viewpoint. The exhibition promises chomatic photographs, video, and for the first time ever, sculpture from Grandmaison.
2. The Katzman Kamen Gallery is opening an exhibition by veteran Toronto photographer, April Hickox, the founding director of the historic artist-run photography center, Gallery 44. The exhibition, titled “Vantage,” presents two series which catalogue the sea, but also the lens. Hickox's affinity for landscape and turning the viewpoint back toward the camera, is distinct in “Port Holes,” a series of images taken from the hold of a ship navigating along the St. Lawrence River as it travels toward the harbor of Montreal. The thick glass of the porthole is marked and stained from the effects of saltwater and weathering, transporting the scene to another time or place, isolating the view and the experience. The “Rain” series takes the viewer to the surface of the ship, with the camera and lens facing the weather and darkness head on. Though water accumulates on the lens, elements of the scene emerge through the fog and rain, revealing a world hovering between night and day, land and sea.
3. The ever-contemporary Angell Gallery presents an all-too contemporary exhibition, "Nine Eyes of Google Street View,” a solo show by artist Jon Rafman which has received internationl attention. Rafman’s work consists of found images sourced from the cameras atop the Google Street View vehicles that rove the universe. As an addition to Google Maps, these vehicles are deployed to record in a contiguous fashion whatever falls within their purview. Rafman’s intervention is to scour through this huge record of occurrences, linked only by spatial contiguity, and to create from among them a powerful broken narrative. From this chaotic reality, he curates or authors an ambitious visual project that reflects both our modern experience and our tendency to see meaning in images. Finding just the right balance between editing, re-framing and focusing these urgent moments, Rafman allows us to find art in the streets, hiding in plain sight, reaching out to us to just look and see. Rafman’s “Nine Eyes of Google Street View” has been featured in Modern Painters, Frieze, Der Spiegel, Libération, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Harper’s Magazine.
4. The strong curatorial work being produced for the National Gallery of Canada’s permanent-collection alcove, adjacent to the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’s main gallery space, continues in its Contact feature, which brings together some of the 20th century’s finest photographers – and some of their strongest photographs – into a rejoinder to the festival’s curatorial theme of Public. Harry Callahan, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Gilden, Leon Levinstein, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, and the disturbing yet sensational Weegee. Drawn from the NGC’s permanent collection, the exhibition highlights the work of seven photographers whose seminal visions helped describe the urban landscape of the 20th century, and ‘street photography’. Here’s a chance to see that incredible Cartier-Bresson photograph that forever underscores his “decisive moment”: “Paris, Gare St. Lazare” (1932), an image that’ll make your heart catch.
5. Finally, for a little something different: Max Dean’s “Album” takes up one of the most ubiquitous forms of photography in the 20th century, the family photo album, and has Dean appearing at various locations across Toronto for the month of May, in his specially configured 1966 Volkswagen Beetle—the Foto Bug—to showcase more than 400 such albums from a collection amassed over ten years. At each venue, Dean will pass the albums on to willing new owners, in a new public project. As Dean has remarked, "Photo albums are the one, and possibly only, story many of us write." In sharing his own collection—essentially an album of albums—Dean invites us to think about the changing nature of photographic objects, to consider anew what these objects meant in the past and what they still mean today. More urgently, he is also challenging us, collectively, to preserve our rich visual culture.