The 2012 CONTACT Photography Festival is just around the corner, and in the wake of recently announced cuts to other cultural institutions, one is reminded of the success the month-long event has enjoyed over the years. Not only is it, as is requisite to mention, the largest photography festival in the world, the talent on display just gets better and better. Now in its 16th year, the festival that reaches nearly every gallery, museum, café, and blank wall in Toronto is again gearing up to display the best of local and international photographers to the city.
At the media preview at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCCA) on Wednesday, the festival’s directors laid out their hopes for this year’s incarnation, which includes variations on the theme of “Public.” Conceived as a response to the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements, which made one’s presence in a public space an explicitly political act, the festival has included a number of international photographers who explore the blurred line between individual and group.
This year, the MoCCA shares its usual designation as festival hub with the University of Toronto Art Centre. Their joint collaboration, entitled Public: Collective Identity | Occupied Spaces, explores the implications of public gathering on both the individual and their society at large.
From Philippe Chancel’s photographs of North Korea’s meticulously-choreographed political “celebrations”, to Baudouin Mouanda’s brightly dressed African dandies, the ways in which individual human identity can be expressed within oppressive spaces seems to focus to the MoCCA’s interpretation of the theme. Michael Wolf’s haunting “Tokyo Compression” series, which captures the melancholic expressions of passengers on crowded subway cars, acts as a wonderful counterpoint to Cheryl Dunn’s shots of raucous concert-going teenagers in America .
The UTAC, meanwhile, features the work of such prominent politically-minded artists as Ai WeiWei, Ariella Azoulay, and Richard Mosse, and focuses more on the “Occupied Spaces” than the “Collective Identity” component. In the show, each subject’s presence in the photo represents a political commentary or challenge (Ai WeiWei’s work shows him giving the finger to the Eiffel Tower and the Yangtze River in “A Study on Perspective”).
With a festival theme of “Public,” it’s really no wonder that the scale of this year’s public installations have been upped.Taking to the streets, CONTACT is now injecting elements of performance and interactive art into the proceedings.
In a celebration of the classic family album, artist Max Dean will be cruising around Toronto in a specially configured 1966 Volkswagen Beetle named “the Foto Bug” to hand out his collection of albums to passersby. For the cheapest art you can take home from CONTACT, be sure to check the schedule of his appearances.
A feature since 2008, the LCD screens at TTC subway stations will this year display the public’s submissions to an open call on what “We’re in this Together” means to them. With a different photo featured every five minutes, there’s a great chance your “arty” Instagram pic may make the cut. Submissions are open until May 30.
In remembrance of British/American photojournalist and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, who was killed last April while on assignment in Libya, his portraits of sleeping American soldiers on tour in Afghanistan will be displayed in on billboards some of the city’s busiest intersections. The photos were taken during the filming of Hetherington’s Oscar-nominated documentary, Restrepo, and present a humanized and apolitical portrayal of the men behind America’s military action.
Jim Goldberg’s work, which will also be presented on city billboards, grants a voice to displaced people from Eastern Europe, Africa, and India by allowing them to participate in their own portraits. Goldberg provides each subject with their Polaroid images and encourages them to write or draw on the photo to better tell their own story.
With an open call for submissions and over 1,000 artists participating, it can be difficult to navigate the overwhelming amount of CONTACT content. Here’s our (highly subjective) guide to the best bets of the festival.
Dan Dubowitz: Fordlandia (Bau-Xi Photo)
That’s Henry Ford. Spending almost a billion dollars during the Great Depression to construct an eponymous city in the Amazon, the automotive pioneer stands as a historical testament to human greed, vanity, and ambition. Photographer Dan Dubowitz travelled to the decaying site for capture some of his typically haunting photographs.
Lynne Cohen (Design Exchange)
While empty landscape is the typical draw for Canadian artists, Lynne Cohen has found incredible success documenting our empty buildings. Highlighting the peculiarity of man-made structures when no humans are present, Cohen’s work is no less affecting for its seeming simplicity. The winner of the 2011 Scotiabank Photography Award, Cohen’s exhibition is part of her prize.
Jill Greenberg: Glass Ceiling (O’ Born Contemporary)
Jill Greenberg received a fair amount of controversy for her “End Times” series, in which she purposefully made toddlers cry for her stylised portraits. In “Glass Ceiling,” Greenberg only forces high heels on female swimmers. Her methods may be gentler, but her commentary is no less cutting, as these absurd and sexualized bodies depict the struggles modern women face to tread water in what remains a man’s world.
Jon Rafman: 9-Eyes of Google Street View, (Angell Gallery)
No, this show doesn’t have to represent the complete death of art. Rafman’s reclamation of Google Street View images returns the human presence to the accidental, and his resulting images are truly sublime. Rafman’s work is also a part of the primary exhibit this year, and the subject of an article we posted a while back.
Stephen Waddell: New Veracity (Monte Clark)
Vancouver-based Stephen Waddell has always been fascinated by photography’s claim on the truth. With ‘New Veracity,” seemingly banal moments in the lives of strangers are given weight simply through their documentation, and the viewer is left scrambling for a narrative behind they see.
Various Artists: Photographie (Arsenal Toronto)
Featuring the work of seven experimental Montreal artists, Photographie represents the “hybrid practices” that arise from applying modern technology to conventional photography. Combining sculpture, painting, video, and computer-generated manipulations, the show provides a great perspective on current photographic innovation in Quebec.
Adi Nes (Koffler Gallery Off-Site at Olga Korper Gallery)
Perhaps the most important Israeli photographer working today, Adi Nes gets his first Canadian survey at the Koffler Off-Site gallery. Nes merges art history with photojournalism in his theatrical, and often controversial, depictions of Israeli life and warfare, while drawing on his own conflicted experience as a queer man of Iranian and Kurdish background living in a militarized environment.
CONTACT FESTIVAL DIRECTOR DARCY KILLEEN’s TOP 10 EXHIBITS:
- Group Show: Public: Collective Identity Occupied spaces (MOCCA/UTAC)
- Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers (Billboards across Toronto)
- Lynne Cohen: Nothing is Hidden (Design Exchange)
- Jamie Campbell: Looking Askance & Laurie Kang: Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise (Gladstone)
- Bernice Abbott: Photographs (AGO)
- Juli Zäll : Vie de la Photo (Relative Space)
- Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie: Afghanistan (ROM)
- Melanie Manchot: The Continuous Still (Distillery District)
- Adi Nes (Koffler Gallery Off-Site at Olga Korper Gallery)
- Matthew Tammor & Agnes Thor: Something, Romanticized (Forgetus Collective)
Interestingly, at this time the festival app from last year has yet to be update with information pertaining to 2012 shows. Should that change, we’ll provide an update here.
For complete listings of CONTACT 2012 exhibits, be sure to check the festival website.
Photo credits: MOCCA installation shots by Mariam Matti. Subsequent photos (in order): Tim Hetherington, Dan Dubowitz, Jon Rafman, and Philippe Chancel.