Category: Exhibits

Exhibition Review: Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950’s to 1980’s

I went to another exhibit today, this one at the Art Gallery of Ontario. With the title of Outsiders: American Photography and Film 1950’s to 1980’s, this exhibit featured the work of photographers Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Danny Lyon, Gordon Parks, Garry Winogrand, attendees of Casa Susanna, and filmmakers Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clarke, Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, and Marie Menken. I think the description from the AGO exhibit web site sums up the exhibit best, in how it describes the motivation of the artists:

“Motivated by a sense that the status quo was untenable, and that current visual expressions of American life did not reflect what they knew and saw of the world, they deployed their chosen media to reflect a more complex, more authentic and more diverse view of the world in which they had grown up.”

I can’t give an an exhaustive review — too much to take in, and I will definitely be going back multiple times, so I will just give a few impressions of what really struck me:

The work of street / event photographer Garry Winogrand was striking. Using a wide-angle lens and a 35mm camera, his images are full of movement and dramatic angles. Even images that might look random and haphazard at first glance, are anything but if you look at them closely; they all have a Cartier-Bretonesque “decisive moment” sensibility about them. On one wall of the exhibit, his prints have been laid out close together in rows, like a contact sheet writ large. From a technical point of view, the silver-gelatin prints are universally excellent.

Next I want to talk about the work of African American LIFE photographer Gordon Parks. His photographs of Harlem, and the bitterly difficult lives of its residents are hard-hitting, brutally unflinching, yet containing moments of tender thoughtfulness. The lighting is often very dramatic and contrasty, but the prints do the images justice, with beautiful shadow detail and a long tonal scale. What is really interesting about the presentation of his work is that includes actual copies of the LIFE Magazine issue that contains his Harlem photo-essays that visitors can leaf through to get a better sense of the historical context in which Parks work was presented.

The work of Diane Arbus will perhaps be most familiar, and her famous images such as that of the young twin girls, and the young boy with a toy grenade are present. The is some variability of the print quality here, but not enough to take away from the power of Arbus’ vision.

Finally, what struck me was the collection of photographs from Casa Suzanna, a refuge for heterosexual transvestites in the 1950s/1960s in New York State. The presentation of original; “snapshot” sized prints, many with inscriptions, brought home the sense of community. This collection features a number of Polaroid instant as well. The Instant print process was popular, as it lessened the risk of being found out and ostracized.

For the exhibit overall, the feelings I sense are humanity and an incredible compassion on the part of the artists. Drug-users, drag-queens, the poor and marginalized, circus freaks etc. are all able to show their humanity, and overcome, even for a moment, the labels and unfair categorizations society had thrust upon them.

This exhibit is must see. For so many reasons.

The exhibit runs from March 12th to May 29th at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.

An Interview

My good friend Mark Blevis captured some video of the show set-up the other night, and asked me some questions about the show:

Mark and his wife Andrea have been incredibly generous this week in putting me up (and putting up with me), and supporting and helping publicize my show. Mark and Andrea, I can’t thank you enough!!

Packing Heat

One of the gallery rooms at the G20/20 showOne of the rooms at the Hindsight’s G20/20 exhibit

I haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but if the open mic portion of the Hindsight’s G20/20 exhibit goes ahead today, here is what I would say:

There is a town in Europe that at one time as a tourist attraction, would put on a life-size chess game once a year. The part of the chess pieces would be played by living people dressed in costumes, white or black, appropriate to the piece. The chess board was appropriately large, of course. The actual chess game however was a reenactment of a game from a few hundred years ago, so the outcome was predetermined. There would be no surprises, everyone knew what they were supposed to do, and were constrained by moves hundreds of years old.  In a sense, everyone was a pawn.

I have felt in the past that protest marches in Canada have often been like that; everyone knew their role, invisible boundaries and unwritten rules would be observed, whether by protesters or police, and at the end of protest nothing would have really changed.

The impact G20 protests are helping to change that, not because of the police brutality, or the childish actions of the so-called Black Block, but because of the overwhelming presence protesters and observers, armed with cameras and video recorders, many linked to social networks. Citizen journalists all, who turned the surveillance society back on itself, as the authorities ended up under the microscope of thousands of lenses. The police have lost the advantage of plausible deniability; it is almost impossible for them to brutalize  and then claim it never happened.

The lens is a more powerful weapon in the long run than teargas, billy clubs or bullets, whether rubber or lead. When it comes to the camera, we have the right to bear arms, and thus we need to be “packing heat” every time we step outside our homes.

I’ll finish by co-opting a slogan from the NRA: You can have my camera when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

Photo Exhibit: Hindsight’s G20/20

I thought I would put in a reminder/plug for an art exhibit featuring G20-related work by a number of photographers (including me!!) this coming weekend called Hindsight’s G20/20, at Studio 561 in Toronto. There is also a Facebook event listing for this exhibit.

This is the first time any of my work has been part of an exhibition, so I am quite excited!! What’s also fun is doing relatively large prints of some of my photographs of what I saw on that unique day.

Tools of the Trade

What wasn’t fun was cutting mat boards for the prints. Thanks need to go to my wife, who is better with sharp objects than I am 🙂

I’ll be at the exhibit at various points during the weekend, so I hope to see you there!