CONTACT TORONTO PHOTOGRAPHY FESTIVAL runs May 1 to 31. Various locations and times. For complete listings, click here

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The higher-profile commercial and artist-run venues are conspicuously absent this year, but the festival counters with a series of impressive public installations. Here, we spotlight 14 photographers who will make you walk away thinking.

Bettina Hoffmann at Gallery TPW (80 Spadina), opens May 15 at 7 pm, runs to June 21. 416-504-4242.

For German-born, now Montreal-based artist Bettina Hoffmann, people have gone to the dogs.In her Maître Et Chien photos on view later this month in her show The Social Reason at Gallery TPW, part of Contact, Hoffmann shoots pairs of people but places one of each on his or her hands and knees, creating an image like that of a dog and owner.

“When people with dogs meet in parks, they talk about the dogs. I mean, someone might even say, ‘Can I introduce my dog to you?'” she says.

“They turn their dogs into people, and I think this is quite amazing. It’s as if the dogs replace a good friend or a good lover. They are dependent on the owner, but the owner also becomes dependent on the dog. So it’s really a strange relation. It’s more like a relationship between humans.”

By subtly manipulating human interaction, she creates images that seem completely natural at first blush but quickly unsettle the viewer.

“I found it very interesting to put someone in this position. I didn’t feel very good about saying to somebody, ‘Do like a dog,’ or ‘Go down to the ground so I can look down on you.’ Some people laughed and actually tried to imagine what it’s like to feel like a dog. Others said, ‘No, I could never do this.'”

What makes Hoffmann stand out from the crowd at Contact is her ability to create images that take a step back from normal to gain a better perspective on the everyday.

For another series, La Soirée, Hoffmann photographed people one at a time and then created a party scene using a seamless montage.

“I try to find a composition, where you can make believe that they are all together, but part of you feels it’s not quite right. Later, people found themselves at a party they’d never been to. I think it was quite strange for them.”

But the beauty of the work is that the tension between the strangers so convincing.

“When I do a montage, I can control it,” explains Hoffmann. “At the end, when I was putting them all together, I was able to really make a photo you could never question. ‘Sure, they were all there,’ you think. ‘It’s obvious – they’re all looking in the same direction because of a noise or something.'”

Alex Abdilla

WHERE: Tatar Alexander (183 Bathurst, 416-360-3822)

WHEN: Opens Saturday (May 3) at noon, runs to June 18.

THEME: Cut-and-assemble urban utopia.

QUICK SNAP: “My art is about the commodification of the urban landscape. Vancouver is a great city surrounded by natural glory, hence Vancouver’s selling motto, Super Natural. My city’s green spaces, however, are being replaced with highrise apartment blocks.”

Iza Mokrosz

WHERE: Gallery TPW (80 Spadina, 416-504-4242)

WHEN: To May 10

THEME: Memories trapped and faded in the rooms of schools once attended.

QUICK SNAP: “I often get asked if it is the school the person who’s asking went to. I think these images give viewers access to a specific kind of memory – of their own experience in school. The architecture is perhaps similar enough to stand in for what others remember.”In seven years, the Contact Toronto Photography Festival has expanded to include more than 140 exhibitions in galleries, museums, bars and cafés. (For Contact listings, see page 30 The higher-profile commercial and artist-run venues are conspicuously absent this year, but the festival counters with a series of impressive public installations. Here, we spotlight 14 photographers who will make you walk away thinking.

Holly King

WHERE: Leo Kamen (80 Spadina, 416-504-9515)

WHEN: Opens Saturday (May 3) at 2 pm, runs to May 24.

THEME: Believe it or not.

QUICK SNAP: “There’s a moment of tension between believing and not believing. Then the realization: ‘Oh my gosh, how could I have fallen for it?'”

Ève K. Tremblay and Michel de Broin

WHERE: Gallery 44 (401 Richmond West, 416-979-3941)

WHEN: Opens Thursday (May 1) at 6 pm, runs to May 31.

THEME: Partners become collaborators, discovering each other anew every day and with every quirky image.

QUICK SNAP: He says: “Honeymoons is a project in which we take a holiday from our individuality and marry our two art practices.”

She says: “Honeymoon was a word that was lonely without an ‘S.'”

Tseng Kwong Chi

WHERE: Lee Ka Sing (993 Queen West, 416-504-9387)

WHEN: To June 14

THEME: East meets West, and East has photo taken at West’s best-known tourist spots.

QUICK SNAP: Tseng died of AIDS in 1990, bringing his Expeditionary Series to a premature and tragic end.

Jamel Shabazz

WHERE: Presented by Wedge Gallery at SOF Art House (688 Richmond West, 416-203-0069)

WHEN: Opening and book signing Sunday (May 4) at 2 pm, runs to May 31. Posters in 325 TTC subway cars as part of the Public Installations Project from Thursday (May 1) to May 31. (Lecture Tuesday, May 5, 7:30 pm, AGO, 317 Dundas West, 416-977-3414 $14, stu $12.)

THEME: Hiphop culture in the 80s, when hiphop was being defined by people riding subways rather than people driving Bentleys.

QUICK SNAP: “When I look at my photos from the 80s I see a time of innocence, a period for me when peace and happiness were the order of the day. Looking back now, I see a time before crack cocaine and its destructive effects on a generation.”

Geoffrey James

WHERE: University of Toronto Art Centre (15 King’s College Circle, 416-978-1838)

WHEN: To June 21

THEME: Landscapes robbed of every ounce of colour and abandoned by people. All that remains are the traces of humanity that dot and scar the face of the earth.

QUICK SNAP: “I have no interest in nature as subject matter, only in the way man has altered the world, for better and for worse.”

Robin Collyer

WHERE: Backlit photographs in two bus shelters (at McCaul and Stephanie, Bathurst and Carr) as part of the Public Installations Project

WHEN: Thursday (May 1) to May 31. (Lecture May 22 at 7:30 pm, AGO, 317 Dundas West, 416-977-3414 $14, stu $12.)

THEME: Bad companies using bad stock photography to sell bad products.

QUICK SNAP: “A tobacco company uses a Malibu sunset. So does a pharmaceutical firm. It’s about the interchangeability of images for promotional and advertising purposes.”

Jack Burman

WHERE: Justina M. Barnicke (7 Hart House, 416-978-8398)

WHEN: To May 15

THEME: Literate and lush photographs look for the baroque in art.

QUICK SNAP: “It’s the life-in-death madness of extreme baroque sites.”

Krista Fraser

WHERE: Prefix (401 Richmond West, 416-591-0357) as part of Kyü, the Ontario College of Art and Design’s student show

WHEN: Opens Thursday (May 1) at 7 pm, runs to May 31.

THEME: A canny look at stereotypical rural pastimes like the smashing of mailboxes from cars, based on actual events reported in local papers.

QUICK SNAP: Any mailboxes harmed in the making of this work? “Yeah, one was,” she said. “But that’s OK. I put it there.”

Larry Towell

WHERE: Part of the Magnum Photographers group show at Stephen Bulger (700 Queen West, 416-504-0575)

WHEN: Opens May 10 at 2 pm, runs to June 18.

THEME: Documenting humanity in inhumane times.

QUICK SNAP: “Photography often comes from the frustration of being a human being at a ridiculous time in history. If a Martian were listening to George Bush today he would think human beings were insane. That’s why I document what I do these days – to prove that people are crazy and politicians are liars.”

Liz Magor

WHERE: The Power Plant (231 Queen’s Quay West, 416-973-4949)

WHEN: To May 25

THEME: The very human fate of repeating history as seen in historical re-enactments.

QUICK SNAP: “Historical re-enactors have very strict rules about verisimilitude when it comes to clothing and gear, so I argue that their “playing dead” images are failures because they don’t really die. They disagree with me.”

Angela Del Buono

WHERE: Distill (55 Mill, 416-304-0033)

WHEN: Opens Thursday (May 8) at 7 pm, runs to May 31.

THEME: Big emotions can be tied to inanimate objects.

QUICK SNAP: “The homes I document rarely show signs of life. If anything, they are already dead and beyond salvation. I capture the physical consequences of abandonment, evoking memories of loss and despair.”

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