Pedestrians hurrying along Toronto’s King Street this month will encounter haunting photographic portraits of a Black woman – larger than life yet eerily intimate. These are self-portraits by the Togolese-Belgian artist Hélène Amouzou, who uses double exposures in her works about the invisibility of migrants. In one, only her feet can be seen; in another, a semi-transparent image of her seated body is printed overtop of an open suitcase.
This traffic-stopping juxtaposition of the private and public realms is typical of the outdoor art at the annual Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.
Every May, Contact fills galleries across the city with a vast range of photographic art – but its strongest moments often happen on the street. From storefronts to billboards, the festival includes numerous public art installations, leaving passersby to make of the photographs what they will. Many of these installations, such as Amouzou’s, draw attention with hard contrasts.
On friendly Ward’s Island, Claudette Abrams and Anthea Baxter-Page offer dark and mysterious images of blank spaces and in-between places that are mounted in cute little vitrines. The cheerful visitor leaning in for a closer look may well be surprised.
Other images speak strongly to their locations. This year, on the eastern lakefront, the Donald D. Summerville pools, site of many a careless summer splash, play host to large-scale photographs that comment on recreation’s darker side. Toronto photographer Sarah Palmer contributes her surprising colour images of poolside passengers frolicking on “last-chance” cruises, trips to disappearing environments that hasten the degradation of the very places they have come to admire.
Some projects insinuate themselves discreetly into the urban fabric. Above an east-end sandwich shop, artists Kyle Jarencio and Michelle Joseph undertake a quiet investigation of Toronto’s changing cityscape, with photos best viewed from across the street (or perhaps from the windows of the Coxwell Avenue bus).