18 must-see shows at Contact Photography Festival 2019

The Toronto-wide event features exhibitions by Carrie Mae Weems, Moyra Davey, Robert Mapplethorpe, Michael Tsegaye, Ayana V. Jackson and more


The 23rd annual photography festival takes over Toronto for the month of May with 23 primary exhibitions, 15 public installations and many other shows at galleries – big and small – around town. Recurring themes include gentrification in global cities, urban waste and challenging dominant historical narratives. Here are the shows we are most looking forward to.

Carrie Mae Weems

Various venues

The influential American photographer headlines this year’s festival with her first solo exhibition – encompassing two gallery shows and three public installations – in Canada. Weems, widely known for exploring how cultural identity and political systems are intertwined, focuses on colour and the way it is used to organize identity in Blending The Blues, while the two-part installation Heave examines North American experiences of violence.

Anointed, to September 6, 460 King West Heave, May 4-July 27, Justina M. Barnicke Gallery (reception May 4, 6-8 pm) Blending The Blues, May 1-July 27, Contact Gallery (reception May 3, 6-9 pm) Slow Fade To Black, to June 4, Metro Hall Scenes & Take, May 1-31, TIFF Bell Lightbox artist talk May 4, 4-6 pm, Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design

Scotiabank ­Photography Award: Moyra Davey

Ryerson Image Centre

The Toronto-born, New York City-based artist is known for her considered images highlighting in-between moments and unexpected objects that capture the unassuming substance of relationships and daily life. Her Scotiabank Photography Award win resulted in this survey exhibition spanning her photography and film work and comes after a busy few years of exhibiting that included a prominent slot at Documenta 14 in 2017.

May 1-August 4 reception May 1, 7-11 pm Rear View Mirror group exhibition May 2-31, imagefoundry (reception May 4, 2-6 pm) artist talk May 8, 7-9 pm, and gallery talk May 22, 6-8 pm, Ryerson Image Centre

Michael Tsegaye, ­Future Memories

BAND Gallery

Condofication is hardly exclusive to Toronto. Rising Ethiopian photographer Tsegaye’s ongoing series examines the ways gentrification has reshaped the streetscapes in Addis Ababa, particularly how village neighbourhoods and highly localized culture have adapted to shiny new developments.

To June 2

Chris Curreri Bloom

Courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery

Bloom, a photo by Chris Curreri, is on display at Daniel Faria Gallery to June 1.

Chris Curreri, The ­Ventriloquist

Daniel Faria Gallery

This playful and macabre multimedia show features a life-size puppet effigy of the Toronto artist alongside the photo series Insomniac of gushy animal innards. The confrontational imagery evokes the various orifices that facilitate our everyday interactions – both witting and unwitting – and what lies inside.

To June 1

Robert Mapplethorpe, The Outsiders

Olga Korper Gallery

The late American photographer’s work has found its way back into the public imagination via major retrospectives south of the border and in feature and documentary films. This exhibition collects his portraits of people who defied gender norms long before gender fluidity was part of mainstream media discussions.

May 2-June 1 reception May 2, 5-8 pm

Ayana V. Jackson, ­Fissure

Campbell House Museum

The tension between classic and modern representations of Black identity fuels American artist Jackson’s work. This show features the artist restaging archival photos of Black women from 19th-century Europe and colonial Africa in order to reclaim the gaze and explore how photography has historically contributed to narrow perceptions of Blackness.

May 1-June 2 reception May 2, 6-8pm artist talk May 2, 6-8 pm

Alex McLeod

Courtesy of Division Gallery

GT (2018), a chromogenic print by Alex McLeod, is on display at Division Gallery.

Alex McLeod, Ghost Stories

Division Gallery

You may have heard that Toronto digital artist McLeod is creating the largest digitally printed image in history – 1.4 kilometres – for a new rail corridor. His Contact show is one of the gaming-influenced artist’s most unabashedly trippy entries in this year’s fest, spotlighting the kind of mini-environments and anthropomorphized creatures that might fill out background in online games and marketing.

To June 8 performance with Meghan Lindsay May 8, 7-9 pm

Susan Dobson, Back/Fill

Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design

Toronto is notorious for tearing down beautiful old buildings to build ugly new ones. What happened to many of our classic 19th-century brick buildings? Guelph artist Susan Dobson’s detailed photos of construction debris on the Leslie Street Spit ponders the cycles of city building by bringing remnants of old Toronto into modern surrounds.

May 1-July 12 Rear View Mirror group exhibition May 2-31, imagefoundry (reception May 4, 2-6 pm) panel discussion May 6, 6:30-8:30 pm, Art Gallery of Ontario

Vivek Shraya & Zachary Ayotte, Trauma Clown

Patel Project Studio

You’ve heard of trauma porn, now meet the trauma clown. Writer, musician and artist Shraya gets melodramatic in these portraits satirizing a serious subject: how the suffering of marginalized artists has become extremely marketable in art and pop culture.

May 4-June 2 reception May 4, 6-8 pm

Stan Williams This Is Indian Land

Stan Williams

Native Youth Movement Sisters (2017), a photo by Stan Williams, is on display at Black Cat Showroom through May 31.

Stan Williams, This Is Indian Land

Black Cat Showroom

Mohawk and Anishinaabe documentary photographer Williams’s work pushes back against colonial narratives imposed on Indigenous lives while also chronicling grassroots activist movements in contrasting black-and-white.

May 1-31 reception May 4, 5-11 pm

Nadia Belerique, above and below and so on forever

Castle Frank Bus Station

The Toronto artist merges the flow of the Don River with Castle Frank Bus Station for this site-specific installation featuring strangely flat still lifes of objects dredged from the body of water that, shamefully, has become a dumping site. If you missed out on the big, community-led ravine clean-up in April, here’s an artful way to ponder what you missed.

To June 8 panel discussion May 6, 6:30-8:30 pm, Art Gallery of Ontario

Group exhibition, Developing Historical Negatives

Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography

Five Canadian artists – Deanna Bowen, Morris Lum, Jacqueline Hoàng Nguyên, Krista Belle Stewart, Hajra Waheed – take archival imagery designed to enshrine the official colonial narrative in the public imagination and inventively draw attention to latent or subversive elements that reveal the ongoing resistance of racialized people and the structures of oppression.

May 3-June 1 reception May 3, 6-8 pm artists talk May 4, noon-2 pm group discussion May 18, noon-3 pm

Meryl McMaster On The Edge Of This Immensity

Stephen Bulger Gallery and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain

On The Edge of This Immensity (2019), a chromogenic print by Meryl McMaster, is on display at Ryerson Image Centre as part of the series As Immense as the Sky.

Meryl McMaster, As Immense As The Sky

Ryerson Image Centre

Ottawa-based McMaster explores concepts of time and ancestry by pairing sweeping vistas and theatrically costumed self-portraiture that reference both her Indigenous and European heritage. A year after showing at Contact as part of the New Generation Photography Award exhibition, her work has toured Canada extensively.

May 1-August 4 reception May 1, 7-11 pm Power In Resistance group show May 2-June 29, Sur Gallery (reception May 2, 7-9 pm)

Erika DeFreitas, It is now here that I have gathered and ­measured yes.

Gallery TPW

Influenced by vintage occult photography, Scarborough conceptual artist DeFreitas’s latest show uses both camera and camera-less “photograms” – or spirit photography – to capture the energy surrounding meaningful items. The ghostly result is more like energy photography than aura photography.

May 4-June 8 reception May 11, 2-5 pm

Group exhibition, Ideas Project

Ontario Science Centre

The MOCA has teamed with the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) for a science-focused artistic residency, and five resulting projects will be on display in the OSC’s Great Hall. The most intriguing-sounding one is by Alien Agency Collective and involves a “bio-art” process that, according to the festival, “allows microorganisms to ‘paint’ their presence on film, under their own agency.”

May 1-31

Manar Moursi

Courtesy of the artist

A video still from Manar Mouri’s Stairway to Heaven (2019), which is on display at Trinity Square Video to June 8.

Manar Moursi, The Loudspeaker And The Tower

Trinity Square Video

Toronto- and-Cairo-based architect Moursi could probably give a lecture on the significance of mosque design and location in Egypt. Instead, her immersive installation takes a ubiquitous feature of the country’s architectural fabric – the minaret – and reveals the unassuming roles the structures play in a complex and changing social landscape.

May 3-June 8 reception May 3, 6-8 pm

Anique Jordan, Ban’ yuh belly

Zalucky Contemporary

The community galvanizer, curator and founder of artist network Black Wimmin Artist steps out with her first solo show. This photo series draws on her 15-year archive of local news clippings to grapple with grief and violence against Black bodies.

May 4-June 1 reception May 4, 3-6 pm artist talks May 9 and 23, 7-9 pm

NPAC National ­Pictures of the Year

First Canadian Place

One of the most dynamic and varied exhibits at the festival, the best in Canadian photojournalism from 2018 covers a huge array of stories and includes some very expressive Doug Ford supporters, intimate photos of a woman preparing for medically assisted death and photo essays on the lack of clean drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and First Nations communities in Canada.

May 13-31 reception May 16, 6-8 pm

@kevinritchie

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