Five Notes: CONTACT Photography Festival Favourites
By the Editors
Montreal-based Jon Rafman's 9-Eyes of Google Street View was probably the most talked about exhibition at this year's festival. This exhibition consisted of images culled from the thousands of views captured by the cameras atop the Google Street View vehicles that roam the planet, recording whatever is happening at that place and time. Obviously, many of the views captured by Google aren't particularly noteworthy, but Rafman scoured the bank of images, curating those he saw as the most interesting. Personal, tragic, amusing, dramatic and confounding moments come together in Rafman's project, providing viewers with a fascinating glimpse at our chaotic yet marvellous world.
Toronto-based Jim Verburg's elegant installation was part of a two-person show (with photographer Eamon McMahon) titled Scenes From Here that looked at "our ambiguous relationship with nature." Both photographers created affecting narratives, but Verburg, by combining photos with some gorgeous abstract prints, pushed the envelope in regards to what constitutes a 'photographic' narrative. Simple gestures, such as hanging images of interior and natural landscapes vertically instead of horizontally, provided visual surprises, while large, moody black-and-white prints of a young man on a beach felt like film stills. Overall, the installation took viewers on a tour through an emotional topography rather than a literal one.
Paris- and Hong Kong-based Michael Wolf's suite of images picturing Japanese commuters on the densely packed Tokyo subway system were the standout in the group exhibition Collective Identity/Occupied Spaces. Tightly framed and looking utterly miserable, the commuters’ faces, pressed up against the condensation-heavy windows, prompted a range of feelings – often sympathy, but also moments of amusement (one commuter flashes a middle finger at the photographer's camera) and creeping horror. Several of the people look as if they could be corpses stored in a refrigerated morgue. An interesting take on the photographer's role as a bridge between public and private spaces, the series also provided a haunting look at daily life on the other side of the planet.
Throughout the run of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival in May, Toronto artist Dean appeared in the Foto Bug, a specially outfitted 1966 Volkswagen Beetle, and allowed anyone who showed up to take, for free, one of the hundreds of old family photo albums he has amassed over the last ten years. (Some of the most interesting ones from Dean’s collection are now housed in the Art Gallery of Ontario.) Ranging from the early 1900s to the 1950s, the albums prompted their new owners to think about their changing relationship with photographic images. The entire initiative was an ideal public project, serving as a call for all of us to participate in the preservation of our shared photographic culture.
Are we ever more vulnerable than when we are asleep? One of the most poignant public projects at this year’s CONTACT, Hetherington’s images of sleeping American soldiers in Afghanistan provided an intimate view of war on billboards inToronto and other Canadian cities throughout the month. Heatherington is a photojournalist who was killed while on assignment in Libya in April 2011. His Sleeping Soldiers portraits, as well as photographer Scott McFarland’s mural Corner of the Courageous, Repatriation Ceremony for Sergeant Martin Goudreault, Grenville St., Toronto, Ontario, June 9th, 2010 (2012) hanging in the courtyard of the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, reminded us, as we went about our relatively peaceful lives that, for many young men and women and their families, there is no such thing as a safe and normal day.