RICHARD HARRINGTON on view at the Isaacs/Innuit Gallery (9 Prince Arthur) until March 16. 416-921-9985. Rating: NNNNN
it's more than a little creepy to
find beauty in a series of photographs that document a people living on the edge of starvation. Richard Harrington's Padlei Diary is as breathtaking as it it heartbreaking.
The German-born Canadian photojournalist worked extensively in the Canadian Arctic between 1948 and 1952, but it's the images of the Pedleimiut Inuit that Harrington shot during the infamous famine of 1950, when the caribou migration bypassed this community just before its relocation to a hamlet off the land, that are his most enduring.
Harrington's portrait of Keenaq and her child Keepseeyuk rubbing noses was featured in Edward Steichen's landmark Family Of Man exhibition, and stands out in the much-reprinted 1955 Museum of Modern Art catalogue as an image of emotional strength in the face of physical despair.
Despite this remarkable photo's fame, there are even more powerful pictures among the selection of the 89-year-old artist's work on view at the Isaacs/Innuit Gallery.
The portrait of the elderly Arnalukjuak smoking a pipe just hours before she froze to death, for example, or Ootnooyaq bearing down to give birth with her toddler beside her, reveals an almost frightening intimacy.
Harrington has commented that it was difficult to make portraits of Inuit people since their body language was so different from his own, but the artist broke through these cultural barriers to find the beauty and dignity of his subjects.
Anyone interested in traditional tattoos needs to see this brilliant body of work. For the rest, go for the photographer's art.DEIRDRE HANNA