Between Memory and History

Considered the biggest of its kind worldwide, the CONTACT Photography Festival is back, and it's everywhere!

While photo exhibits will be featured in gallery spaces, participating artists are also displaying their work in non-traditional public locations in the greater Toronto area.

Some public exhibits include a changing photo - short video installation created by the Magnum photo agency of New York and displayed on the facade of the Drake Hotel, artist Eamon MacMahon's giant Canadian wilderness images installed at Terminal 1 at Pearson International Airport, and Rodney Graham's already popular upside-down tree portraits plastered onto columns supporting a downtown section of the Gardiner Expressway.. just to name a few.

Now in its twelfth year, CONTACT 2008 represents 679 artists at 220 showings around the city of Toronto from now until May 31st where it will wrap up at the Drake Hotel for a celebrated close. Darcy Killeen Executive Director of CONTACT played a major part in the Festival's rapid growth in the past few years; bringing to the table his past Financial Accounting training, CEO management skills, Wall Street trading experience and supported by a strong Board of Directors (consisting of a variety of curators, gallery owners, artists and photographers) Darcy excelled with his ability to help the Festival grow as a business. Darcy explained that being a painter and photographer himself he aimed to celebrate the art of photography as well as bring it to a wider audience.

Darcy served as CONTACT chairman for a couple of years before he niched into his current executive director position for the past three annual festivals. In our talk about George Eastman - who created the roll of film in the 1920's and brought the Kodak revolution; Darcy explained that the 'new' photography revolution is the appreciation of photography as an art and even though technologies focus on how to facilitate the transfer process, Darcy's main objective is to provide a service to photographers as he would for any 'artists.' One artist that came to Darcy's mind was Henrieta Haniskova and her first solo exhibition 'I Am Elvis' featured at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West) consisting of a collection of portraits of Elvis impersonators from the 2007 Collingwood Elvis Festival that quickly propelled the photographer to spontaneous fame from the CONTACT Photography Festival publicity: landing her several credible articles with the Globe and Mail, the National Post and gained her CBC news recognition.

The MOCCA (The Museum Of Contemporary Canadian Art - 952 Queen Street West) is where CONTACT is housing the feature festival show with works by Robert Burley, Raymonde April, Luc Delahaye, Nan Goldin, Adi Nes, Martin Parr, Chi Peng, Thomas Ruff, Alessandra Sanguinetti, and Bert Teunissen. After walking through all the exhibits I spoke to Bonnie Rubenstein Festival Art Director and Editor. Bonnie started at the Festival in 1996 for the 1997 CONTACT show, then a "grassroots operation," Bonnie, with a Master Fine Arts Degree and having Museum gallery experience also having worked for the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and with some diverse culture work experience across the U.S. border - namely in Chicago for the Museum of Contemporary Arts where Bonnie worked on public installations and sculptures in "specific locations that were in transition" - Bonnie helped implement themes to the festival starting in 2005, as a means to help direct busy artists stemming from the Festival's rapid growth.

Since photography has been described as a surrogate to memory, the 12th annual Photography Festival perfectly parallels this year's theme 'Between Memory and History' which explores the complex relationships between photography and the human experience, between public and social histories. Most of the public art displays present the public viewer with contrasts, like Toronto photographer Anthony Koutras has done on Queen Street into the urban landscape, across the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, where the artist applied his work onto the pavement and where photographs of the bicycle posts span the sidewalk like a shadow. The effect is small yet powerful, making a statement about photography's relationship with reality which may or may not capture the attention of the pedestrian passersby, but even so, it will leave them with a subliminal lingering thought about the artist's underlined message.

Bonnie Rubenstein says that her focus is always on making the festival have a public impact, and for the festival to happen successfully and on time; in her experience, Museums work years in advance on their venues; and like many international artists that Bonnie has worked with, their time schedules are also booked years in advance. Thus Bonnie's challenge and passion is to bring the same quality type of venue to the annual Festival within a year which consisted in developing strong relations, a lot of planning and in her mastering the approval process with the city to have the artwork displayed in many of these public venues. As a public observer, I believe one reason for the public venues is to also draw the viewers in from their common digital viewing comfort zone: their home computer and HDTV screens; at the same time Bonnie never lost sight of CONTACT's aims to celebrate the art of photography making it available for anyone to participate in and for the public to view the photography art form one-on-one.

CONTACT Photography Festival themed 'Between Memory and History' exhibitions are housed at the MOCCA (952 Queen Street West, Toronto Canada) were visitors will be greeted by Robert Burley's nostalgic 'Kodak factory demolition' wall installation in the MOCCA parking courtyard entrance -Inset Photo - The Burley wall installation- Photo Moment by Tomitheos.

Burley will also conduct a free artist talk on Sunday, May 25, 2008 at 2 p.m.

The festival is expected to draw over one million visitors before it ends this month making it the largest photography festival in the world.

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