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2007 05 25
Contact Toronto Photography Festival
Image of Erwin Olaf's work has been taken from his site.

Every year the Contact Photography Festival just gets better and better; more participating venues, a wider variety of artists and an ever expanding interpretation of the photographic medium. This year the theme is the ‘constructed image’ which showcases work which examines the relationship between photography and reality; particularly relevant in this era of the dizzying array of digital post-processing techniques. I couldn’t possibly review all of the fantastic work that I saw, but read on for my experiences at the Gladstone Hotel, the Loop Gallery and the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MOCCA).

For those with limited time the Gladstone Hotel may just be your best bet; the hotel has devoted three floors to Contact! Watching the interactions between the artsy photo-loving folk and the janitorial staff (who were in the process of cleaning the swanky hotel rooms while I was there) was rather interesting; most photo lovers politely stepped aside to let the cleaners through, while never taking their eyes off the ever important photos. The cleaners on the other hand appeared painfully aware of the photo-phile presence. Bringing to the fore issues of race, class and gender-induced invisibility, these interactions functioned as a fascinating ‘accidental’ installation.

Image of Steven Cline's work has been taken from his site.

As for the official exhibitions at the Gladstone, PHOTOFiction was the stand-out for me. Of the twelve participating artists in this group show, three particularly caught my attention. Steven Cline’s Constructed Realities features seven photos (blown up quite large) with accompanying audio stories which range from a few minutes to several minutes. The stories are remarkably well written, and a chat with the personable artist reveals why: Steven is a writer, not a photographer. The photos are deliberately but charmingly amateurish, which allows you to focus on the writing; an effective technique. Although listening to all the stories takes approx. 45 minutes, it is wise to listen fully to a couple rather than bits of each, as they may surprise you. For instance, being an animal lover I gravitated toward a close-up of a beautiful cow (pictured above). Instead of an animal story however, I heard a poignant tale involving divorcing parents. Steven mentioned that he is working on another similar project; if he can maintain the textual quality and connection to the photos, this will be one to look out for.

Image of Angel Di Zhang's work has been taken from her site.

Angel Di Zhang’s Do Models Have Souls? exhibition features mannequins in startlingly intimate poses; I did a double-take more than once. Have you ever thought that, just maybe, you saw that store window mannequin wink at you from the corner of your eye? This is the show for you.

Image of Stephanie Fysh's work has been taken from her site.

Stephanie Fysh’s Hotel/Rooms exhibition features candid photos of people in hotel rooms. This was a particularly appropriate exhibit for the Gladstone; as I wandered through the various exhibitions, I found myself wondering what atrocities or delights were going on behind the closed hotel room doors. The photos themselves are rich in detail and provide the supposedly anonymous hotel room with an overwhelming humanity.

Image of Barbara Rehus’ work has been taken from Loop Gallery's site.

Further East at the Loop Gallery, Barbara Rehus’ Just Leave exhibition was nothing short of brilliant. The graceful and gentle movements of large strips of gauzy white material hanging from the ceiling immediately caught my attention. A closer inspection, however, revealed that each one had a vague image of an elderly face as well as a pocket containing a piece of paper on which intimate text about the person was written. Each person was from a palliative care facility, and most of the text was written by family members. Emotionally engaging indeed, but not as much as what awaits in the gallery’s back room. Beautiful old typewriters invite people to type their own ‘stories of invisibility’. Pieces that ranged from the incredibly moving (one black employer recounts how their white employees make them feel invisible) to the unexpected (one person tells of how other gallery attendees made them feel invisible because they were only interested in the artwork). However, it was not until I spoke to the friendly and knowledgeable staff that I realized that the two works were part of the same exhibition on invisibility. Therein lies the true brilliance of the exhibition; how refreshing it is to see an artist who not only addresses the often overlooked but important issue of invisibility, but actually works to empower the ‘invisible’ by giving them a voice. Unfortunately this show ended on May 20.

Image taken by me in front of MOCCA

The exhibits at MOCCA were, as always, larger than life. The deliberately demolished bus outside is interesting in and of itself, but you can enter the bus from the rear to witness a series of gentle hologram-style images set to subdued music; think Obi-Wan Kenobe from Star Wars. Inside the gallery awaits too many excellent exhibits to describe in detail, but three artists are worthy of mention: Ilkka Halso’s Museum of Nature series examines the social construction of ‘nature’, Sam Taylor-Wood’s images of people in motion have a weightless quality and Erwin Olaf’s pictures evoke strong feelings of detachment and alienation in vintage tones.

Image of Ilkka Halso's work has been taken from from his site.

Image of Sam Taylor-Wood's work has been taken from Artnet.

Image of Erwin Olaf's work has been taken from his site.

Contact ends on May 31st- get out there and feel your thoughts being provoked!
[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 05/25 at 04:55 PM

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