Michael Chambers at the O'Connor Gallery (97 Maitland), to April 2. 416-921-7149. Rating: NNNN
Michael Chambers was feeling confined by being labelled a gay African-American photographer of nudes. When work from a Montreal show was returned to him in a rough wooden crate two years ago, he channelled his frustration into an arresting new series of images. Placing his nude models in the crate, Chambers used them to address issues of labelling and identity. The Box Project was born.
Never an artist to remain complacent, Chambers used the crate's simple structure to highlight tension and movement. In doing so, he's presented us with visual allegories about what it means to inhabit a body and, by extension, a human relationship. Within the dimensions of the crate, matched exactly by the frame of the camera, couples and individuals twist, preen, pose and move, working through a broad range of attitudes and feelings. Unified by the taut visual logic of the show, this diversity works beautifully.
In one shot, a Rubensesque woman in a head scarf reclines classically and stares out with unreadable calm. In the next, a wiry Jamaican man is hidden behind the smooth soles of his outstretched feet. One couple manages to morph into an impossibly contorted single body, while another couple is caught in a completely relaxed moment of tenderness. While the bodies and relationships differ radically from print to print, the show refers back consistently to the beauty and drama of the human form.
Working with only the simplest elements, these images are a powerful reminder of how limits can be used to express transcendence.