Contact Photography Festival: 25 can’t-miss shows

When you're talking nearly 1,500 artists at 200-plus venues in one of the world's biggest photo shows, you know you need help choosing what to see. That's where NOW's list of must-sees comes in. Taking Identity as its theme, the 18th annual Contact Photography Festival looks like one of the strongest yet.

CONTACT PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL through May and beyond. Hundreds of photographers from around the world at over 200 venues across Toronto. See Listings at, and more information at

1. Material Self: Performing The Other Within and In Character: Self-Portrait Of The Artist As Another

Mocca (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), 952 Queen West

To June 1

These two exhibits share the theme of identity across two generations, from Cindy Sherman to Tomoko Sawada. For the eight artists of Material Self, it’s evident that the self is more a launching pad than a fixed point. Using makeup, lighting and costume, they enact a broad range of characters based on heritage or mythology. In OMIAI, Sawada reimagines herself as radically different Japanese brides to be shopped by their parents for arranged marriages. She shows that photographers in this genre are not merely skilled behind the lens, but have added acting, art direction, wardrobe and makeup to their roster of uncanny abilities. DJ

Wortley's Wiggle, Caledon Ski Club, Mississauga Rd. Caledon, Ontario

2. Scott McFarland

Snow, Shacks, Streets, Shurbs

Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas West

May 14 to August 10

McFarland has always focused on the use of digital technologies to create painterly alterations that play with an image’s sense of time or placement. He likes to transpose elements into different environments or make a subject appear in different areas of the photograph simultaneously. Extremely exacting in his choices of alteration, he achieves an almost hallucinatory, dreamlike clarity that can only be called hyperreal. This time he applies his subtle wizardry to populated landscapes. DJ

Mara, 17yrs, from Backra Bluid series (left). Letitia, from Backra Bluid series (right)

3. Stacey Tyrell

Backra Bluid

General Hardware Contemporary, 1520 Queen West

To May 17

(also part of Picture From Paradise: A Survey Of Contemporary Caribbean Photography, at the Power Plant, 231 Queens Quay West, to May 25)

The Brooklyn-based Caribbean Canadian gives Cindy Sherman-style self-portraiture a new spin by posing as imaginary white women, a kind of blackface in reverse. She alters her features and dons elaborate costumes to inhabit British characters that might be part of her mixed-race family tree, playing with the power relations inherent in constructions of racial identity. “Backra” is Caribbean slang for “white,” “bluid” is Scottish for “blood.” FS

Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother

4. Rebecca Belmore


Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, 7 Hart House

May 15 to August 9 reception 6-8 pm May 15 performance 8 pm May 23, August 9


Billboard installation at NE corner of Spadina and Front

To May 31

Premier First Nations artist Belmore’s practice centres on visceral, intense performances. Kwe (an Anishinaabe term of respect for women) gathers video, photography and sculpture. A tree in Queen’s Park is the site of a new performance, and early work Speaking To Their Mother, a giant wooden megaphone for addressing the earth, will be marched down to the waterfront on the final day. In her billboard installation, photos of workers in safety jackets marked with an X explore manual labour, displacement and exploitation of the land. FS

Elaine and Arly, New York (left). Naomi and Bruce, New York (right)

5. Richard Renaldi

Touching Strangers

Metro Hall, corner of King and John

To June 1

How can a photographer explore the chemistry between strangers in a large cosmopolitan city? Renaldi had the intriguing idea of selecting two random people on the streets of New York City and posing them together for spontaneous, often strangely touching portraits. He has a talent for mixing and matching duos, like the stately financial analyst and the young woman who could be his daughter. The resultant series upends our assumptions about intimacy and our ideas of what constitutes otherness. It’s also an uplifting testament to the fundamental civility of its subjects, who seem to have no problem getting around each other’s differences. DJ

MacLeod's Books, Vancouver

6. Stan Douglas

Scotiabank Photography Award

Ryerson Image Centre, 33 Gould

To June 1

Playing with outdated styles of media representation – period photojournalism, genre filmmaking and TV – Douglas explores fictionalized history-based narratives about identity and injustice. His complex, multi-layered projects include Midcentury Studio, black-and-whites channelling entertainment photos from 50s magazines, and Disco Angola, which recreates scenes from the 70s in New York and Africa. Part of the Vancouver school of conceptual photographers, the influential 2013 Scotiabank prizewinner also works in film, video, theatre, installation and digital media. FS

CREDIT: Will Munro CAPTION: Untitled

7. Robert Flack and Will Munro

Paul Petro Contemporary Art, 980 Queen West

May 2 to 31

This show combines images from the estates of Toronto’s late, great queer activists. Flack developed a highly personalized and spiritually focused aesthetic exploring the body and AIDS through the principles of Kundalini yoga. Munro is of course the well-loved promoter of Vazaleen, the queer-centric monthly club event that radically configured the Toronto scene with its goofy, all-embracing aesthetic of glamour and fun. DJ

CREDIT: Fan Xi CAPTION: Up Front (left). CREDIT: Chun Hua Catherine Dong CAPTION: Husbands and I (right)

8. Through The Body: Lens-Based Works By Contemporary Chinese Women Artists

University of Toronto Art Centre, 15 King’s College

To June 28

Visual art has been blossoming like never before in China, but it’s mostly been an all-male affair. This show focuses on highly charged work by Chinese contemporary women artists that centres on the body. Ranging from the deeply personal to the extremely political, the work in this show demonstrates a surprising range of inventiveness and courageous exploration of what it means to be a woman and an artist in today’s China. DJ

Cfaal 384

9. Jessica Eaton

Jessica Bradley Gallery, 74 Miller

To May 31

Montreal-based Eaton exclusively employs analogue processes to create images that resemble geometric abstract paintings. Using a large-format camera, prisms, polarized lens, multiple exposures and other mysterious techniques inspired by early photography, she shoots wooden cubes or pyramids through coloured gels, combining the results into luminous, vibrantly hued photos that draw on the colour theories of Josef Albers and the oeuvre of Sol LeWitt. FS

Tatanka (Buffalo)

10. Dana Claxton

Indian Candy Dundas West billboard installations at Ossington, Rusholme and Lansdowne

May 1 to 31

Claxton repurposes media images of indigenous life, including archival material about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, her ancestor Sitting Bull and the plains tribes’ uprising against the U.S. government. Her radical alterations – enlarging images, bathing them in vibrant unnatural colour, adding her own text – reclaim them as First Nations iconography and the advertising billboards they occupy as aboriginal territory. FS


11. Annie MacDonnell

Pictures Become Objects, Objects Become Events

Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge

May 5 to 30

In her month-long residency, MacDonell explores the Reference Library’s picture collection, seeking to reframe the paper clippings selected by mostly female librarians as an unintentional feminist archive. She’ll be at work on weekdays, placing images in a fifth-floor vitrine and creating a collaged mural on the third floor. A performance and an artist book are also promised. MacDonell’s practice, which includes film, installation, sculpture and sound, uses strategies of appropriation and deconstruction. FS

Husband and wife on Sunday Morning, Fort Scott, Kansas

12. Gordon Parks


Black Artists’ Network in Dialogue (BAND), 1 Lansdowne, second floor

To August 3

Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King West

To May 24

Parks – who was also a director (Shaft), poet, novelist and composer – made a career of being the first: first African-American photographer for the U.S. Farm Security Administration and Life magazine, first black director of a Hollywood film. Now, eight years after his death, he’s getting his first solo shows in Canada. He was especially passionate about documenting the civil rights movement and racial injustice. The BAND exhibit demonstrates the rapport he had with his subjects, from people on the street to leaders like Malcolm X. FS


13. Myron Zabol


Gallery House, 2068 Dundas West

May 3 to 31, reception 2-5 pm May 3

A 30-year veteran of editorial and art photography, Zabol makes palladium prints, hand-coating fine art paper with a platinum emulsion, a black-and-white process that produces a unique sense of depth and range of tone. Some of the images are from People Of The Dancing Sky, a collaborative project portraying the Iroquois of the Six Nations reserve that updates the Edward S. Curtis tradition. FS

Bay Roberts

14. Steve Payne

False Fronts

Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art, 401 Richmond West

May 8 to July 26, reception 7-10 pm May 8

When not snapping editorial images of political figures, musicians and film folk for NOW and other publications, Payne turns his camera on vernacular architecture. Previous projects documented independent taxi stands in St. John’s and Toronto’s suburban lakeshore motels. He returned to his native Newfoundland to shoot these images of wood-framed mercantile buildings with false fronts, roof-level extensions designed to make facades look grander. FS

CREDIT: Leala Hewak CAPTION: Brightview #1

15. Z-Ro

Bright View: Z-Ro Collective presented by Flophaus

Project Gallery, 1109 Queen East

May 8 to 14, reception 7-11 pm May 8

Winnipeg’s four-member Z-Ro Collective pay tribute to vintage signage on crumbling low-rise apartment buildings in their economically depressed hometown. William Eakin is known for photographing his collections of scratched Polaroids, watch faces, bottle caps and other discarded items. Cliff Eyland and Craig Love incorporate found images into artist books and paintings. Leala Hewak, an artist who’s relocated to Toronto, runs virtual art showcase Flophaus. FS


16. Brittany Lucas

Light From Outside

Sonic Boom, 201 Augusta

To May 31

Those who love crate digging at Sonic Boom and catching shows at Lee’s Palace and the Dakota Tavern can see some of their favourite local musicians in Lucas’s photographs. The show features a hefty cross-section of participants in the city’s burgeoning music scene as they work local venues and studios in a bid for rock immortality. DJ

The Lonely Artist

17. Fausta Facciponte

Six Characters In Search Of A Photograph

Art Gallery of Missisauga, 300 City Centre

May 15 to June 29

Facciponte’s delirious dioramas extend kitsch into some new realm of visual intensity. She creates impeccably staged and photographed tableaux that consist entirely of cutesy porcelain figurines crammed together. The title riffs on Luigi Pirandello’s play Six Characters In Search Of An Author, though a conclusive narrative is hard to discern here. The result is both overwhelming and intriguing, like being swarmed by an army of porcelain Keebler elves. DJ

CREDIT: Geoff George CAPTION: Carey Gray and partner at Morpheous Bondage Extravaganza

18. Archiving Public Sex

University of Toronto Art Centre Art Lounge, 15 King’s College

To June 28, panel discussion May 21

With the opening of adult play spaces and expansion of the queer and S/M scenes, Torontonians have been having a lot of sex in public. This show of archival material from the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies documents recent sex-positive celebrations like the Feminist Porn Awards and Morpheus’s bondage extravaganzas and includes multimedia items from the archive’s collection. Look for special additions from everybody’s favourite sex activist Annie Sprinkle and local burlesque bombshell Coco La Crème. DJ

Elderly vigil

19. Samer Muscati

The Unfinished Revolution

OCAD U Students Gallery, 52 McCaul

May 8 to 31, reception 6-9 pm May 8

Neither art photography nor photojournalism, the unique images in this show were made by Human Rights Watch researcher Muscati while advocating for victims of oppression. He says the process of taking photos gives the people he works with “a sense of ownership over what we are doing together.” The show reflects his current focus on women’s rights in Africa, the Middle East and aboriginal communities in BC, where our justice system often ignores violence against women. He’s an inspiring man. FS


20. Dominic Nahr

The Rift

O’Born Contemporary, 131 Ossington

To May 31

The award-winning Magnum agency photojournalist and Ryerson grad has covered conflict in Sudan and the Arab Spring and travelled widely on the African continent. Nahr made the photos in this show in East Africa’s Rift Valley, which he calls “a startling metaphor for the balancing act upon which life on Earth is contingent.” His images contrast the beautiful, resource-rich environment with inhabitants’ difficult lives and the region’s political unrest. FS

Blackwater Ophelia

21. Adad Hannah

Three Generations (Kodiak Art Club, 1953)

Koffler Gallery, 180 Shaw

To June 8

Centre Space/Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain Toronto, 65 George

May 3-31

The Vancouver-based artist has received international recognition for video tableaux vivants that look at museum exhibition strategies or reinterpret classical artworks, exploiting the tension between still and moving images. In Three Generations, a new work commissioned by the Koffler, he draws on his own family history of art-making, recreating a portrait his grandmother painted of his mother in a complex video and still installation. Centre Space shows videos reworking the Millais painting Ophelia and depicting people he encountered on a visit to Russia. FS

Crystal Ballroom

22. Adam Taylor

Ruins Of Toronto

The Brockton Haunt, 1150 College

May 15 to June 15

Derelict spaces have always held a special fascination for urban explorers of a certain stripe, and in the face of

Toronto’s recent condo boom they have been slowly vanishing. To make these images of urban decay and spaces in transition, Taylor bravely enters abandoned silos, energy plants, decaying mansions and crumbling factories awaiting demolition or retrofit. DJ

Canada Street, Hamilton

23. Joseph Hartman


Stephen Bulger Gallery, 1026 Queen West

May 10 to June 7, reception 5-9 pm May 9

The son of cityscape painter John Hartman was set to go to med school when he changed directions to become a photographer, apprenticing for several years with Edward Burtynsky and relocating to the Hammer from a small Georgian Bay town. His sharp, beautifully composed colour images of his adopted city show the influence of Burtynsky and his father, but his streetscapes with old cars and panoramas incorporating the defunct steelworks capture his own sense of gritty urbanity. FS

CREDIT: Don Newlands CAPTION: Ian Tyson

24. Stoking The Star Maker Machinery Behind The Popular Songs

Art Square, 334 Dundas West

May 6 to 19

Our rich musical legacy is captured in this collection of Canadian music legends snapped as they saunter around Toronto. Pretty much every luminary of the past five decades makes an appearance, from Leonard Cohen to Joni Mitchell to Gordon Lightfoot. Rare and never before seen photographs depict singer/songwriter icons walking the streets, performing at bars and grinding out the hits in the studios of the big smoke. DJ

Studio Sketches

25. Max Dean

I’m Late, I’m Late: Part Puzzle, Part Game

Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West

To June 16

Dean, who calls himself a “visual thinker,” works in sculpture, performance, installation and robotics as well as photography, putting a unique slant on changes of scale and modifications of everyday objects. (His Robotic Chair, which collapses and then reconstructs itself, was part of the first Luminato.) This installation uses Harbourfront’s hallway photography space as a metaphor for the artist’s process, following his ideas from conception through strange creative detours to realization. FS

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