Three Shows To Make Contact With Before It All Ends

(Draft article for Huffington Post Blog)

Somewhere in the great city of Toronto, there is an art lover who has seen every single Contact Festival picture hung by over 1,500 Canadian and international photographers in 175 venues throughout the city.  But for the rest of us,  it is a challenge to  see at best a few of the exhibitions that make up the  world's largest month long photography festival.  With only a few days left in the
At the Design Exchange
Big Show, what will you see? May I suggest three -  the late Arnaud Maggs (AGO/Ryerson), Maclean's Face to Face (Gladstone Hotel)  and the intriguing group show -
I Am Standing In The Place Where I Live - by four students from Emori Joi High School in Kenya (Design Exchange)!

I Am Standing In The Place Where I Live: Christopher Nokes is a well-known figure in Toronto's art scene, and an inspirational Visual Arts teacher at the Vaughan Road Academy. Nokes, working with the Save the Children Fund,  has put together a very simple, but touching, exhibition currently showing at the Design Exchange.

Betwel Mutai  - Private photo

Nokes gave four Emori Joi High School grade eight students in Kenya a photographic assignment - take a set of pictures that shows their take on what "public" and "private space" means to them.

Four cell phone cameras. Four students. Four views on life in rural Kenya.  A basic concept that has had complex results. The pictures show four children doing what kids do - climbing trees, sitting in school, being part of the community. Yet, there is something more going on!  

The school, built by Western charity, is located in Southern Kenya and is operated by Free The Children in an adopted village (international donations keep the community going).   This is a country where 25% of all Kenyan girls under the age of 14 are married, and 26% of  Kenyan children aged five to 14 are unschooled labourers. This is a refuge that has been built to provide education to children who otherwise wouldn't have much of a life.

The pictures have been taken by youngsters who, by a turn of fate, have a chance. They are the lucky ones.  As the pictures show, with food, clothing and schooling, life looks pretty normal. Nokes quotes to me something that was written by him about the show in the Contact catalogue that "each image says simply, "this is me in my world" and (to capture the song lyric of REM) "I am standing in the place where I live" and their understanding of the photograph as an "extension of vision" is an holistic vision of a world separated into two spheres: marketplace and silentplace." 

Deborah Cherotich-Public photo

All of the images in I Am Standing In The Place Where I Live including a set of pictures taken by Dylan Ungerman Sears, (one of Nokes' former students) who visited Tanzania earlier this year, have been looped onto a video and are being shown on the third floor of the Design Exchange on Bay Street. You may trouble locating this dark backroom exhibition space, but, the experience is educating!

Tanzanian Market - Dylan Ungerman Sears

Arnaud Maggs Scotiabank Photography Award:  Just around this time last year I was squiring Canadian photographer Arnaud Maggs around downtown Toronto, to interviews with the nation's leading arts journalists. What a grand time he was having. A successful show - After Nadar: Pierrot Turning ran in early 2012,  followed by, Arnaud Maggs: Identification  at Ottawa's National Gallery.  In May 2012 he won  Scotiabank photography award,  which brought with it a lot of publicity, a $50,000 purse, a book deal and this exhibition at Ryerson.
At the Ryerson gallery - George Socka photo

He was head of the class. He was king of Canada's photography world. He was at the top of his game.  But the dream year ended sooner than most of us could imagine.  Arnaud died of cancer in on November 19, at the age of 86.

Attending the opening of his posthumous exhibition at the new Ryerson University gallery on Gould Street and seeing his work on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario (also part of the Contact Festival) brought back memories of how much fun I briefly shared with this dry witted, very gifted photographer.

This year's  Scotiabank Award 2013 announcement was staged in a space just outside of Magg's Prize / Contact exhibition at Ryerson.  I got a chance to ask to Arnaud friends and family a question that troubled me all winter - when Arnaud prepared his last show After Nadar: Pierrot Turning, and when he worked on the layout of this exhibition, was he aware that he was dying? Were these exhibits the legacy he wanted us to see? The answer? A resounding, "Yes, of course he knew!"

My filmmaking associate George Socka and I interviewed Arnaud for a Huffington Post piece that I worked on earlier this year. We spent an hour with Maggs  during the After Nadar: Pierrot Turning exhibition. (Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820 -1910), a famous French photographer, caricaturist, journalist and balloonist who lived and worked in Paris.) It was one of the last video interviews he gave:

Maggs was inspired by an 1855 series of photographs that Nadar took of Pierrot, a celebrated pantomime artist. Maggs, restaged these photographs but with himself as the sitter.

The many faces of Maggs as Nadar  - self portraits
Understanding  now that Maggs, an artist known for his meticulous attention to detail, took these images knowing that there was a good chance he wouldn't be here to take a bow, makes one react differently  to these pictures to when he was alive. Throughout Contact, a full-on head shot of Maggs as Nadeau the clown prince is used to promote the show. White face. Enigmatic twinkling eyes. White outfit. Red and black chapeau.   But the better au-revoir  is Maggs as Nadeau, the mime photographer. Box camera on stilts. A gleam in the eye. The silent performer who wants his lens to speak for him!

Maggs as Nadar the photographer - self portrait
Maclean’s: Face to Face.   I get to drop names because I attended the offical launch for the Macleans Magazine Contact exhibition that hangs in the Gladstone Hotel.  Part Hotel. Part Art Gallery. All Boozeateria, the Gladstone launch attracted a crowd that included many of the people who are pictured in the 50 pictures hanging on two floors of the Queen Street West hotel.

I was having a Mill Street Beer with singer Dan Hill, while we both admired a cover shot of PET in formal wear (but hands in the pockets of course) and giving the camera that half smile that came to define him.  We were blocking traffic. Dan pulled me back to let Film Director David Cronenberg and his wife into the room so that they could see Croneberg's portrait on the wall.  I
At the Gladstone
think I spilled some suds on Jan Arden or was it
Oliva Chow?

Macleans photographers have been taking pictures for the magazine for 108 years.  It is an award winning magazine known for its well written articles, but, as the crowd that jammed into the Gladstone Hotel will tell you, it is the Playboy Syndrome in reverse -- it is not the articles; they buy Macleans for the pictures!

The magazine's Director of Photography Andrew Tolson curated the exhibition. “This collection, gleaned from thousands of photos in the Maclean’s archives, features some of the very best portraits taken by some of Canada’s finest photographers," he is quoted as saying. Photographs by Karsh, Fouhse and Leistner, just to name three, cover the walls.
Opening at the Gladstone - publisher Penny Hicks (l), art expert Shelley Falconer (r) - George Socka photo

Can't make the exhibition before it closes June 1st. No worries, Macleans has published a 100 page catalogue and an I-book in conjunction with a show that would make paparazzi drool.



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