LARRY TOWELL at Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen West), to March 20. 416-504-0575. Rating: NNNN
Kids and family pets playing, a pregnant mother resting, a gang of girls laughing: subjects found in many snapshot albums. But the man behind the camera for the family photos in The World From My Front Porch is noted photojournalist Larry Towell, the only Canadian member of the prestigious Magnum agency.
The author of iconic images like the stunned businessman scanning one of the papers raining down from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and the young Palestinian swinging his homemade slingshot in the intifada is known for covering conflict zones in the Middle East and Central America.
Here he presents almost impossibly idyllic images, some of which appeared in NOW, of his family at home in Lambton County, Ontario, the farming community where he grew up. Coming in from the slushy February streets, I bristle at first at what I see as pretty depictions of rural hippy life, but soon I fall under the photos’ spell.
Though taken over the past 20 years, the black-and-white prints are strangely timeless; they could have been shot any time in the history of photography.
The thin, high-cheekboned face of the artist’s wife recalls Dorothea Lange’s dust bowl women, though Ann Towell seems more contemplative than care-worn, as well as Julia Margaret Cameron’s Pre-Raphaelite portraits.
There’s no conceptual axe to grind or disturbing Sally Mann-ish subtext. Slightly off-kilter compositions keep the works interesting, and many are haunting, like the baby in a stroller adrift in a sea of Queen Anne’s lace and the ghostly tree framed in the window of an abandoned house.
Towell says his rootedness here has allowed him to empathize with the struggles of the landless worldwide. No one is more qualified to demonstrate that lovingly shot scenes of home can be as compelling as photos of violence.