20 must-sees at Contact Photo Festival 2017

As the massive photo festival takes over Toronto galleries, we fearlessly forecast success for an assortment of Canadian artists


It’s hard to know where to begin at a festival with so many shows open for so long. Our list of tips includes entries from all the Contact categories – primary, featured and open exhibitions and outdoor installations. If we’ve bypassed some of the best-known names, it’s because we assume that art lovers already plan to check out Mark Lewis at the AGO, Luis Jacob at Gallery TPW, Suzy Lake and Max Dean at Ryerson Image Centre, Michael Snow at Prefix ICA and Robert Burley at John B. Aird.

1. Free Black North, at the AGO, April 29 to August 20

Photographs of Ontarians who escaped slavery in the U.S. or their descendants date from the mid- to late 1800s. Identities of some are known, but new photography curator Julie Crooks hopes the exhibit prompts people to come forward with information about the unknowns.

2. Ears, Eyes, Voice: Black Canadian Photojournalists, 1970s-1990s (Jules Elder, Eddie Grand, Diane Liverpool, Al Peabody, Jim Russell), at BAND Gallery, April 27 to May 27

These photographers covered the Black community for the Star, Globe and Mail and Sun as well as Black media outlets Spear, Contrast and Share. 

3. What does one do with such a clairvoyant image? (Dana Claxton, Stephanie Comilang, Kapwani Kiwanga, Dylan Miner, Martine Syms, Tania Willard), at Gallery 44 and Trinity Square Video, May 5 to June 3 

First Nations, African-Canadian and Filipino-Canadian artists present videos that challenge the legacy of colonialism.

4. 2Fik: His And Other Stories, at Koffler Gallery, to June 4

The Moroccan-born queer Montrealer poses as various interrelated male and female characters in narrative photographs that often send up European paintings.

5. Finn O’Hara and Steve Driscoll: Size Matters, at McMichael Canadian Art Collection, to August 20 

The two Toronto-based artists collaborate on quirky images of Driscoll’s landscape paintings photographed by O’Hara in urban and rural locations.

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Valérie Blass, Étude Préliminaire, Maquette, Bleached Jeans, 2017.

6. Valérie Blass: Nous ne somme pas des héros, at Brookfield Place, April 27 to May 31

The Quebec artist’s installation consists of blockish sculptures covered in photographs that deconstruct the human figure. 

7. Shelley Niro: Battlefields Of My Ancestors, at Fort York, to May 28 and Ryerson campus, April 28 to August 13

Photographs document the Mohawk artist’s investigation of historic battlefields and sites of importance to her people in northern New York state and Ontario.

8. Jalani Morgan: The Sum Of All Parts, at Metro Hall, April 30 to May 31

The Scarborough-born photographer documents BLM-TO protests and takes portraits of activists.

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Debra Friedman, Delwood Middle School, Bermuda.

9. Debra Friedman: Coming Of Age In Wonderland – Portraits Of Teenage Bermuda, at Art Square Gallery, May 1 to 22

The Toronto photographer depicts island teens and their conflict between local and popular culture.

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Krista Belle Stewart

10. Krista Belle Stewart, at Franz Kaka, May 5 to 27

Photos, videos and objects assembled by the Vancouver-based member of the Okanagan First Nation bridge personal and institutional history in a show partly produced at a Banff residency for Indigenous artists led by AGO curator Wanda Nanibush.

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Sandra Brewster, Blur 4.

11. Sandra Brewster: It’s All A Blur, at Georgia Scherman Projects, May 5 to June 10

The Toronto-based African-Canadian artist uses photo-based gel transfers to make blurry portraits that speak of changes related to immigration or dislocation.

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Meera Margaret Singh, Phoenix.

12. Meera Margaret Singh: Jardim, at Zalucky Gallery, May 6 to June 3

The Toronto artist made these photographs at a residency in an isolated industrial town called Jardim Canada in Brazil, expressing the tensions of living in a place that’s unsafe for women.

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Jacob Whibley, Are You Enjoying Your Walk Work?

13. Jacob Whibley: dot-dot-dot, at 8eleven, May 12 to 31

Known for his poetic collages, Toronto artist Whibley here combines photos, text-based pieces and sculptures in a project about time travel and timelessness.

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Henry VanderSpek, Richard, Participating in a City-Wide Protest Beside Queen’s Park

14. Henry VanderSpek: Taxi Drivers Of Toronto, at Daniels Spectrum, May 1 to 30

A Toronto-based photojournalist turns his lens on local cabbies.

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Oscar Wolfman, Yael and Sisera.

15. De/Generative: The Queer Jewish Photography Of Oscar Wolfman, at Queen Gallery, May 2 to 26

Wolfman, a Toronto photographer who died in 2011, staged lush re-enactments of Old Testament scenes inspired by European paintings.

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16. Angela Grossmann: Models Of Resistance, at Poïesis Contemporary, May 4 to 22

Vancouver-based artist Grossmann collages found risqué photos, hair, textiles, puppets and other ephemera into bizarre images of women that undercut the male gaze.

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Annie Sakkab, Hanan from series A Familiar Stranger.

17. Muse (Laurence Butet-Roch, Chloë Ellingson, Marta Iwanek, Anica James, Hannah Love Yoon, Galit Rodan, Annie Sakkab, Michelle Siu), at the Gladstone Hotel, April 30 to May 30

This group show explores the role of women in visual journalism, subverting traditional representations of women and critiquing the unbalanced gender politics of photographic reporting.

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Chris Curreri, Kiss Portfolio.

18. Chris Curreri: Unruly Matter, at Daniel Faria Gallery, May 5 to June 10

The Toronto photographer shows black-and-white close-ups of kissing mouths and tongues and perhaps other body parts, abstracted into a strange eroticism.

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Lori Blondeau, Asiniy Iskwew, 2016.

19. Lori Blondeau: Asiniy Iskwew, at Devonian Square, Ryerson U, April 28 to August 13

The Saskatoon-based First Nation artist’s series of photographs celebrate rock formations sacred to Indigenous people. (The title means Rock Woman in Cree.) 

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Johan Hallberg-Campbell, Coastal Road, Newfoundland, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.

20. Johan Hallberg-Campbell: Coastal, at Harbourfront Centre, April 29 to June 19

The Canada-based Scottish photographer documents the landscapes of Canadian sea coasts and the lives of people living on them, serving as a lament for vanishing fisheries. 

See the full schedule at scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

art@nowtoronto.com | @FranSchechter

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