The month-long Contact Photography Festival of more than 500 artists continues at hundreds of local venues. Here are some exhibits you won't want to miss.
Check out upcoming issues for more picks.
When/Where: Prefix (401 Richmond West, #124), to June 9. 416-591-0357.
What: Crisp, poetic patterns of grey and white ashes strewn on black backgrounds: it sounds pretty prosaic, but once you know the context, these large black-and-white photographs shine in an entirely different light. Hurlbut has been entrusted with the most precious of materials for her project: the cremated bodies of family members and friends.
Why: In these new works, Hurlbut cuts to the bone of art, life and death by fearlessly intertwining the three in a perfectly written pattern language. The first impression is of astral images, ashes as planets and stars in the darkness of outer space. There's a scientific overtone of precision, a sensation that strangely amplifies the grandness of the experience.
Buzz: Killed in a traffic accident, a photographer friend and previous Contact artist's remains appear in the show. It's a deeply personal attempt to transmute loss into art. Bjarke Madsen
When/Where: Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth), to May 26. 416-365-3003.
What: Penny's powerful portraits make you wonder where the artist found such quirky and imperfectly beautiful human faces. Thing is, his people are entirely fictive. Penny shoots his life-size hyper-realist sculptures, whose startling strangeness makes these photos appear to be portraits of living subjects.
Why: Penny heaves a brick through the constraints of realism to celebrate a hybrid reality in his mock portraits, demonstrating extraordinary vision and superior craftsmanship. The emotion in these faces are starting points for a discussion about realism and the authentic human face, showing why he's renowned as a photographic maverick and a unique sculptor.
Buzz: Penny invites the viewer into the slightly twisted world of nearly real people. Bjarke Madsen
Sarah Anne Johnson
Where/When: Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen West), to June 9. 416-504-0575.
What: The Galapagos Project, a gently whimsical record of two trips Johnson took to the Galapagos Islands as a volunteer on an agricultural rehabilitation mission. She photographs her fellow workers and friends, as well as little sculptural models she made of them and herself propped up on miniature island sets.
Why: Johnson uses photos, models and figurines to probe the gulf between good intentions and blunt reality. Playing on National Geographic-fuelled notions of island paradises as well as the idealism of do-gooders out to battle Third World poverty, she attempts to reach a wiser, more plausible middle ground.
Buzz: Johnson's understated humour works well. Several forms of narrative comfortably intertwine in a mix of figurine tableaux, landscape and portraiture. Part documentary, part dream and part folklore, The Galapagos Project includes a full-scale model of a cane house that's sure to be hit with children. David Jager
Thomas Bachler, William Mokrynski and Mabel Odyssey
Where/When: Lonsdale Gallery (410 Spadina Road), to June 2. 416-487-8733.
What: Innovations in pinhole photography, featuring multi-dimensional landscapes, black-and-white portraits of jazz musicians at play and the world's first photographs taken with a gun.
Why: The pinhole camera, basically a dark box with a hole, is the simplest photographic technology around. Since it can be made with unlimited exposure time, a pinhole photograph reproduces the ever-changing nature of the visual field like nothing else can. Each of these artists uses this freedom to highlight different effects of time on visual space.
Buzz: Thomas Bachler's photos (pictured), taken with wine-box cameras, are all pierced by the bullet shot into the camera to make its aperture. His remote urban locations (abandoned subway platforms, forlorn park benches, highway underpasses) have the sinister aura of potential crime scenes. The grainy quality of the exposure and bright flash of the bullet hitting the negative give the phrase "photo shoot" a whole new meaning. David Jager