Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival comes back to Toronto for its 26th edition

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Image © Kwasi Kyei, Repose Sixth is v, from the series Bodies, 2018. Courtesy of the artist

Taking place citywide, this year’s festival areas explorations of identity plus visibility at the heart of its programming, and looks towards brand new visions for the future

Look at the map for the 2022 Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Celebration and you’ll discover a constellation of over 140 displays stretching from the centre of Toronto out towards the city’s limits. With venues which range from museums and galleries to public spaces such as billboards and parks, photography is set to assume myriad forms and shapeshift through the city over the coming months.

Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Ekeziel’s Chorus II), 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the artist and Jack port Shainman Gallery, New York.

Tyler Mitchell, Untitled (Two Young ladies Embrace), 2021. © Tyler Mitchell. Courtesy of the designer and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Among the core exhibitions of the edition, Atlanta-born photographer Tyler Mitchell is presenting am employed at three sites in Toronto, all curated by Indicate Sealy, under the name Cultural Moves . This includes an exhibition at CONTACT Gallery, an outdoor installation with Metro Hall, and a demonstration on billboards at Dupont and Dovercourt. While the exhibition features a full selection of Mitchell’s richly hued and close images, the Metro Corridor installation comprises just 13 large-scale portraits of models amidst colourful flowers plus green spaces. Meanwhile, the billboards focus even further, showcasing images that celebrate the Black gaze through the self-assured, unfaltering stares of two people on one billboard and a close-up of a face on an additional as they look directly into Mitchell’s lens.

Now based in Ny, Mitchell has become known for their visionary images celebrating the Black experience, so meant for CONTACT, he and Sealy wanted to extend that by bringing “a bold eyesight to the city” and, like Sealy writes in his accompanying essay , to create an experience that melts away “the destructive binary national politics of ‘us’ and ‘them’”. Addressing the objectifying colonial history of photography as it pertains to Black bodies, Sealy produces that Mitchell’s work is all about reflecting a defiant feeling of Black being – “one that sheds the degrading skins of categorisation and classification so obvious in photography’s past”. Most of the themes in this work reverberate throughout the festival as a whole, which includes subjectivity and representation, visibility and social possibility. Mitchell and Sealy will also current a live conversation as part of a wider public programme of Festival talks and events.  

Jorian Charlton,   Georgia, 2020. Courtesy of the designer.

Canadian photographer Jorian Charlton is another artist showing operate different spaces, and like Mitchell she too deals with the reclamation of presence for people of colour. Alongside Out of Many – a solo display at the Art Gallery of Ontario that runs until 07 August – she also has a mural presented within the façade of a Victorian-era constructing at one of the busiest intersections in Toronto. Entitled Atlanta , the task comprises a single portrait obtained from Georgia and Kukua , a project regarding Black sibling relationships which usually began in 2020. The particular photograph depicts Georgia, a new Black woman, standing tall and holding herself within a pose that transmits both softness and strength. With the camera positioned below and looking up, Georgia stares back down at the viewer, making it an ideal fit to overlook the street below.  

“This is a quintessential image from Jorian’s body of work, ” says Solana Cain, curator of the exhibit. She points out how Charlton shares agency with her models by inviting them to direct their own poses and naming every work after the person portrayed. “This process is Jorian’s way of pushing back with photography’s imperialist history, countering colonial photographic practices, and addressing the restriction inside movement and over-surveillance from the Black community that proceeds today. ” In this feeling, it means something to have an image taking over a building along with roots in the colonial period, and to have it be large. Charlton agrees, saying a good thing about the work is that “you can’t miss it! I love that Black women take up space and getting seen because representation will be important”. Charlton is also a part of fi di gyal deinem – a virtual display in collaboration with designer Kadine Lindsay that celebrates the interior lives of Black women through a mix of portraits, paintings and animation.

Atong Atem, from your series,   Surat, 2022. Commissioned by Photo Sydney and presented in partnership with PHOTOGRAPH 2022 International Festival of Photography, Melbourne.

Also showing on a larger-than-life scale is Melbourne-based, South Sudanese artist Atong Atem , whose project Surat is certainly taking over five billboards along a busy streetcar line in downtown Toronto. Surat – which translates from Sudanese-Arabic as ‘snapshot’ – sees Atem take her family’s photo albums plus reimagine them in self-styled new images. Donning various outfits and playing the particular roles of various characters, Atem poses before makeshift backdrops with props including caps and flowers. It is a task about photographing and getting photographed, self-portraiture, and, claims Atem, it is about movement and the migrant narratives from the African diaspora too – tracing her people through time and geography.

In the meantime presented by BAND Photo gallery at the Meridian Arts Centre, is Ghanaian photographer Kwasi Kyei’s Honam: An Akan Word for Body – an exhibition of striking black-and-white pictures curated by Courtnay McFarlane. As with some of the other artists on this year’s roster, Kyei makes work in conversation with the history of Black representation – specifically of Black men. With a particular focus on the advantage of Black skin, Kyei records his models lost in moments of easy pleasure or reflection, in both facilities and outdoor settings. “The images explore Blackness and diasporic and complex Africa maleness through formally and stylistically varying images, generally stark with strong clashes, light-filled with deep plus subtle gradients and emphasising varied shades, ” he explains.

Sandra Brewster,   Roots one, 2021–2022 (gel transfer on pressure treated wood). Courtesy of the artist.

Another key theme threading throughout this year’s programme is art-making because it relates to conversations around the environment and the future. Continuing these theme of movement narratives, Toronto-based artist Sandra Brewster is exhibiting the installation Roots – a deep breathing on Blackness and getting outdoors, curated by Kari Cwynar and Charlene Nited kingdom Lau. Developed during Brewster’s one-year residency at Timeless Brick Works, a former scrape, Roots is a series of pictures of plant life from the encircling Don Valley. Brewster has then imprinted these pictures onto wood panels utilizing a gel-transfer technique and set up them along the tree-lined Beltline nature trail that leads towards the Evergreen Brick Works site.

What is so exciting relating to this project is twofold, says Lau – it’s a major public commission, but there’s also the inherent group efforts behind it. “Brewster collaborated on participatory study in situ with the college student and advocate Jacqueline T Scott, ” she clarifies, “and this communion between Brewster, Scott, and the people brought into the fold within their exploratory walks are at the particular core of  Roots which is about providing safe, joyful outdoor encounters for Black communities. ” Beyond this, she continues, the act of movement from one place to another also embodies not only Brewster’s family story of migration from Guyana to Toronto but also, “the distant and latest histories of those in the Carribbean diaspora who now contact Toronto/Tkaronto their home” – Tkaronto being the native name for the city. With the work, Lau says, the lady hopes that viewers may “enjoy the nourishing effects of outdoor activity” while furthermore taking a moment to “pause and reflect on our own body in space, our ancestral histories, and our memories”.

Using photography as a way to picture potential futures, Memory Function Collective are presenting a mural of 12 pictures at The Bentway – a good urban park located below an expressway. Described as “portraits of revolutionary figures from a future Toronto“, the people portrayed in the photographs are all users of a group of change-makers referred to as Mothers of Invention, which includes scientists, healers and organisers among others. The work asks exactly what would happen if these people would be to become leaders of a transformed city – one that centres on care and growing politics. Each of the images within the series is a portrait of a living person that has therefore been made into a sort of image through a process the group refers to as ‘embellished photography’.  

Talking on behalf of the collective, Macy Siu and Robert Bolton describe the idea: “The people photographed are people whose lives and work transmission the future world we’re looking forward to. Members of the collective Tala Kamea and Naomi Skwarna had the idea to use the particular characters’ aprons as a fabric that reveals their jobs in the world through the tools plus uniforms of their labour. The aprons they created become clues to the ways of this particular future society. Omii Thompson then photographed each of them, plus Rajni Perera painted the layer of future on to each portrait. ” The particular physical interventions made by Perera include painted lines and symbols that conjure dream-like visions and invite us to contemplate new ways of living.

Storage Work Collective,   Portrait of Dom, Rewilder, 2022, (mixed media on giclee print). Courtesy of the musicians.

From CONTACT this year, space just for critical dialogue and the consideration of alternative futures is usually foregrounded, and in collaborating with a broad group of artists each Canadian and international, the individuals behind it have worked to give photography an omnipresent, bodily place throughout the city. Having facilitated immersive experiences made to mutually comfort and problem audiences, its 2022 programme offers myriad visual prompts for reflection and group action, to both knowing visitors and the wider general public alike.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is an author and editor based in Brighton. She has written on pictures and culture for over 40 international magazines and magazines, and held positions because editor for organisations including The Photographers’ Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, End up being Happy. She recently finished an MA in relative literature and criticism from Goldsmiths College, University of London

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.