Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Not sure what to see at the Contact Photography Festival? Here are our experts’s top picks

To really, really … really grasp the significance of a Stan Douglas photograph, it is best perhaps to have copies of Derrida’s Greatest Hits, Walter Benjamin: The Reader’s Digest Condensation and The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver close at hand. But is it necessary?
Stan Douglas, MacLeod's Books, Vancouver, 2006

Based on the 18 Douglas photos now up at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, the answer is no. Yes, the literature for the exhibition, one of the pillars of this year’s CONTACT Photography Festival and one of the “trophies” bestowed on Douglas as the 2013 Scotiabank Photography Award laureate, freights his oeuvre with all the lingo – “mediated experience,” “overlooked histories,” “a visual culture of memory and oblivion,” “paradoxical relationship” – one expects of a founding member of the fearsome, influential Vancouver School of photo-conceptualism. And it’s true Douglas’s photographs are as much about the processes of photography as the subjects he presents. Fortunately, there’s enough pictorial punch in most of his pictures (such gorgeous skies! such lustrous greys and blacks!) that the so-called average viewer won’t feel utterly at a remove, on the outside looking in at some arcane aesthetic exercise.

Stan Douglas, Ballantyne Pier, 18 June 1935, 2008

At 53, Douglas is perhaps best known for his long engagement with video and film, but the RIC show easily makes the case for the importance of his photographic endeavours, particularly as they’ve played out in the last 20 years. Rather than being some lesser or residual activity, it’s clear the still images have informed the moving pictures, and vice versa. The wall-covering span of 2001’s Every Building on 100 West Hastings (just what its title says it is), for instance, is a work of down-at-the-heels grandeur, at once cinematic and Cineramic.
Stan Douglas, Kung-­Fu Fighting, 1975, 2012

Navigating through “the world’s largest photographic event,” as CONTACT likes to call itself, can be an intimidating, frustrating affair. So we asked a handful of Toronto photography experts/lovers to name some of the sights and sites they’re looking forward to seeing in the month ahead.
Annie MacDonell, Pictures Become Objects, Objects Become Event

Sara Angel, arts writer, founder/executive director Art Canada Institute

Pictures Become Objects, Objects Become Events, by Annie MacDonell (Toronto Reference Library)

One of Canada’s most talented young photographers (recently short-listed for the AIMIA/AGO Prize) makes mesmerizing images by drawing on the Toronto Reference Library’s clipping collection, one of the city’s oldest and unique, yet under-celebrated, archival resources. Her pictures are built on the historic but they feel completely contemporary.

Three Generations (Kodiak Art Club, 1953), by Adad Hannah (Koffler Gallery)

One of the country’s best mid-career photographers is renowned for his cleverly staged images that recast famous paintings. Now he turns his attention on himself, his mother and his grandmother and gets personal for the first time. Hannah builds a new story out of old family images. In the process he brings his virtuoso and dramatic intensity to the family snapshot, giving it a whole new meaning.

Virginia Mak, Reticence 04

Toni Hafkenscheid, fine-art and commercial photographer

Three Generations (Kodiak Art Club, 1953), by Adad Hannah (Koffler Gallery)

Hannah’s modus operandi is to videotape scenes in which people seem to be frozen in time (mimicking the photograph), but then you see them move ever so slightly and realize that you’re looking at something that has actually been recorded over time. His exhibit makes the viewer question the truthfulness of the photographic image as well as offering some of the aspects of photography that I love – the snapshot as a preserver of memories and photography as performative act.

Character Reference, by Virginia Mak (Bau-Xi Photo) and False Fronts, by Steve Payne (Prefix Institute)

Although they are exhibiting at two separate venues and have very different aesthetics, because they’re partners, I am going to take a bit of licence and package these two Torontonians as one selection. Mak’s photographs are dreamy, poetic images of staged, fictional characters captured in an impressionistic, out-of-focus manner. Payne’s images crisply document the colourful wooden false fronts found on stores in his native Newfoundland.

Gordon Parks, Department Store, Mobile, Alabama

Michael Torosian, publisher, Lumiere Press

Gordon Parks: Portraits (BAND Gallery) and Gordon Parks (Nicholas Metivier Gallery)

Parks (1912-2006) was a force of nature – the first black photographer at Life magazine; director of Hollywood movies, including Shaft; a prose stylist who wrote best-selling novels; a composer of film scores as well as a ballet in honour of Martin Luther King Jr. This pair of shows is the first chance ever for Torontonians to see Parks’s work, an indispensable voice for photography and humanity.

Nadia Belerique, The Archer 3

Samara Walbohm, co-founder, Type Books; co-founder, Scrap Metal Gallery

Have You Seen This Man, by Nadia Belerique (Daniel Faria Gallery)

Provoking the performativity of objects, photographs, objects in photographs and photographs in objects, Belerique disorients and reassesses ideas of perception.

Snow, Shacks, Streets, Shrubs, by Scott McFarland (AGO)

Curated by Kitty Scott, the AGO’s curator of modern and contemporary art, the 40-plus layered, composite pictures here represent McFarland’s largest solo show ever and a long-overdue honour.

Sophie Hackett, assistant curator, photography, Art Gallery of Ontario

Faces and Phases, by Zanele Muholi (Ryerson Image Centre)

I am very much looking forward to this powerful series of portraits from South African photographer Zanele Muholi of LGBTQ individuals, on view in Toronto for the first time. Each subject looks steadfastly out at the viewer and the simplicity of Muholi’s approach underscores the urgency of this project: greater visibility for South Africa’s queer communities as a path to greater acceptance.

Retail Compositions, by Owen Kydd (Allen Lambert Galleria)The public installations are one of my favourite elements of the festival every year, and I am particularly keen to see Owen Kydd’s work, which includes three newly commissioned works. Kydd plays at the intersection of still and moving images with short colourful videos – filmed from a stationary position – that include only subtle movement. The videos seem to be at once advertisements and dioramas (or perhaps more aptly “tableaux vivants”), fittingly sited in a commercial environment.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to