Goldin's work, shot in available light with the awareness but apparently not the self-consciousness of her subjects, is often heart-stoppingly intimate. (Not all of these people seem happy, but all of them appear to be happily in love.) And yet, the presence of the camera inevitably raises the possibility that the subjects are not generously giving of themselves, but rather posing for it in some artistic version of the scientific principle whereby the observer's presence necessarily changes what is being observed.
That is the question that the Brazilian-American photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti addresses so directly and so hauntingly in her series The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams. Her subjects are two prepubescent girls, creatures plunging headlong into the age of self-definition who seem both joyfully lacking in self-consciousness and delighted to try on roles for both themselves and the photographer. The photographs offer moments as staged as a nativity scene on the one hand and as impromptu as a morning on the porch on the other. Their arresting images are made all the more compelling because the apparently inseparable girls are so physically mismatched. (One is very slight; the other is quite fat.)
The artist whose work might serve to summarize all these directions is the Dutch photographer Bert Teunissen, who has shot a series of large-scale colour images of mainly elderly Europeans posed in their even older houses. The odd bit of jerry-rigged wiring points to their vintage; these are places that predate electricity and the images represent ways of life that will vanish in the face of increasing European homogeneity. These dramatically shadowed pictures recall the chiaroscuro of the Dutch masters and thus elevate their subjects in the same way as Nes's Abraham and Isaac. They are filled with a sense of loss and regret for something that is passing, and yet also some awareness that these are not comfortable places nor easy lives.
Domestic electricity and popular photography both became widespread at the beginning of the 20th century, yet it is 21st-century digital technology that allows Teunissen to easily enlarge his photos to the scale of the Old Masters. Like Burley's Kodak workers recording their loss with the very technology that has caused it, Teunissen relies on modernity to lament the disappearance of the pre-modern. As the digital image and its eager viewer waltz blindly towards the future, these photographers cut in, determined that art can still lead the dance.
The Contact photography festival continues at various venues in Toronto until May 31 ( http://www.contactphoto.com or 416-539-9595).
THE FESTIVAL: FIVE SHOWS YOU SHOULDN'T MISS
by Arnaud Maggs
at the Susan Hobbs Gallery
The veteran Toronto photo artist returns with another of his scrupulously precise yet achingly poignant suites of images of historic paperwork. This time the subject is a blank financial ledger from 1905 on whose pages Maggs's camera discovers not numbers but simply the flowering shape of a watermark and resulting mould.
Srebenica: The Absence
by Roger Lemoyne
at the Toronto Image Works Gallery
In the show perhaps most closely linked to this year's theme of memory and history, Quebec photo journalist Roger Lemoyne displays his shattering record not of the Srebenica massacre itself but rather its aftermath. These photos of uncovered bones, searching relatives and enumerated effects are both memorial and cry for justice.
The Entire City Project
by Michael Awad
at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery
To witness the impressive artistic potential of digital technology, see Michael Awad's sequential panoramas of city spaces from Vegas and Venice to the Eaton Centre escalators on Boxing Day or College Street in its entirety. Awad's digital camera only records movement, either the photographer's or the subject's, to reproduce the kinetic experience of city life in an Eadweard Muybridge-like progression of images.
by Tim Roda
at the Angell Gallery
Do you live in a family like this one? In wickedly funny black-and-white tableaux, the American photo artist Tim Roda replaces the convention of the happy snap with outrageous poses and jerry-rigged settings suggesting grave dysfunction of both the family psyche and the household plumbing.
The Uchronie Fragments
by Osheen Harruthoonyan
With a variety of darkroom techniques, cutting, pasting, erasing and bleaching, Toronto photographer Osheen Harruthoonyan manipulates old black-and-white photographs of men in sombre suits, ladies in puffy dresses and, in one case, the iconic lines of a vintage TV set. The effect is to create a gentle memorial to a fading art form - silver-based photography itself.