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Must See: Frames Of The Visible

If there’s a contemporary “can’t miss” exhibition in Toronto this month it’s Sanaz Mazinani’s Frames of the Visible. Showing until June 9 at the Stephen Bulger Gallery, these wall-sized photo collages truly rethink photography as they rigorously explore new ways of seeing and representing conflict through photography.

                                                   Redacted, by Sanaz Mazinani, 2011

Until now, I admit to not being a fan of her work. I haven’t liked the form of it and haven’t felt that the photos conveyed what she wanted to say. She’s described her work as an exploration of “the relationship between perception and representation by drawing on concepts such as censorship, scale, and the body as a site of action or violence.” Honestly, I don’t get how her earlier works did that. But this set actually shows how we see and how photographers represent what we see – in reality, and not just in theory.

                                         Redacted, detail by Sanaz Maziani, 2011

These awesome sculptural pieces involve the use of two or three photographs shrunk down, duplicated, mirror-imaged, repeated and rearranged almost endlessly with a clear goal in mind: To revitalize and hence rethink the wars in the Middle and Near East. Redacted (above) uses imagery from a U.S. military funeral, including men on parade, coffins and black boxes, to contemplate the cost of war. Its perfectly ordered presentation, like the perfectly ordered men (their faces redacted), and the perfect, flag-covered coffins, mirrors how real deaths are reported/redacted in this well-ordered and distant war. I doubt there’s another image that shows how we report on war as well as this one. Not only that, but this singular image (seen from afar) has a forbidding muteness about it.  It looks to me like a child of Janus and the Sphinx, looking both ways but with eyes facing front that say little. And then there’s the colour and the sheen of it – really, I could go on and on.

               Together We Are, Sanaz Mazinani, 2011

Together We Are (above, with detail below), creates a butterflied mandala out of two incongruously matched icons: Paris Hilton and a female suicide bomber. I found myself reacting at first to Paris’ naked arrogance and then to her naked vulnerability; then from the bomber’s ferocious violence to her profound commitment. This one actually does demonstrate “the body as a site of action or violence”. It’s not just an idea. I can feel it. Afterwards I found myself thinking about how it is that our opposites frame the pattern of our lives. As an image, Together We Are is an explosion, hurtling it’s black and white shards from the middle outward, through bodies of flesh.

                                                      Detail, Together We Are, Sanaz Mazinani, 2011

I love that the act of exploring these works leads us inward to find out what each pattern is made of. That’s a perfect analogue for how we think, discover and process ideas. But the works also delve emotionally into feelings about violence, vulnerability and culture. We are a world apart and yet, we are all together. Brilliant. I can’t wait to see her next work.

If you’d like to read more, click here. If you’d like to see more, click here. But nothing will match the experience of seeing them live.


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Jon Rafman’s Google Street View

What is photography? If you think it’s about the images produced by a photographer, sensitive to his subject, arranging the canvas in a clever geometry and waiting for the perfect moment, I urge you to visit the Angell Gallery’s back room asap. There, a series of nine magnificent photos “by Jon Rafman” await; all of them taken randomly by Google Street View (GSV). And these are terrific photos in every respect. The moose, for example (below), finds himself  in uncertain and dangerous terrain, and runs headlong towards the corner to meet his destiny – a perfect metaphor for the clash of man and nature. What photographer wouldn’t “kill” for this shot?

And yet, these images are considered Rafman’s work, though they’re “taken by” a scheduled, roving camera and “owned by” a corporation. Or are they? Are they public property? And are they Rafman’s photos? Whatever the copyright questions, their presence at the gallery are the result of Rafman’s work: Years of it in fact, combing GSV for the best images for his thesis, which he summarizes as follows:  “I saw GSV in some way as the ultimate conclusion of the medium of photography: the world being constantly photographed from every perspective all the time. As if photography had become an indifferent, neutral god observing the world.” 

Neutral indeed, but not without a sense of humour, as the images above and below suggest. Or – is that Rafman’s humour and god’s randomness? Because Rafman’s role here, despite the randomness involved, and in opposition to his thesis, is just an analogue of the photographer’s traditional role of discovery, selection and presentation. In the real world all these random events also unfold; Jon Rafman has simply found a way to be everywhere at once.

The thesis that this show actually proves is that there is beauty, drama and humour in every place and in every moment. It’s just waiting for us to notice.

BTW, skip past the front rooms where Andrew B. Myers’ puerile photography awaits to discourage further exploration. You won’t be sorry.

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CONTACT’s Last Weekend

Time is about to run out on photography lovers who have put their gallery-going off until the end of the month. Now that it’s the end of the month, my plan is to tell you where to find the best (and avoid the worst) of the fest.

I had some fun turning Scott McFarland’s mural into a tromp l’oeille in black and white

Where to begin is a bit arbitrary, since there are several can’t-miss shows. On no account can you miss the Sanaz Maziani’s wall-sized photographic structures at the Stephen Bulger Gallery at Queen just west of Ossington. If you’re well versed in the annals of photography go there first.

But I’m a bit of a geek about the history of photography, so I’m going to steer the rest of you to MOCCA (On Queen West just west of Shaw), where two exhibitions explore the theme of public space and private identity. Don’t miss the 12 x 20′ mural by Scott McFarland on your way in. Amazingly, most people pass by without noticing it!

Start with the “Street View” exhibition – a history of photography in the gallery to the left as you enter. It looks dark, but it’s not – just reverent lighting appropriate for what’s housed there: works by 20th century masters Henri Cartier-Bresson, Weegee, Lisette Model, Helen Levitt, Leon Levenstein and Bruce Gilden.

As the gallery above attests, nothing whatsover has to be said of this wonderful work, and anything one can think of will only add context. In that fact it stands in striking contrast to many other CONTACT exhibitions, including part of the second grouping at MOCCA titled Public: Collective Identity/Public Space.

There’s some wonderful work there (included in the gallery above), including Michael Wolf’s nearly religious study of Tokyo commuters, Jon Rafman’s google lifts (housed at another venue) and Baudoin Mouanda’s wonderful street photography. But too much of it needs words to give it value: Sort of an upside down adage – one footnote is worth a thousand images. Way too often those words are loftier than anything on view. It’s a shame that the festival is so caught up in art theory that is often a cover for bad art. There’s a lot of it, but I’ll steer you clear.

Next, you’ll have to choose between Sanaz Maziani at Stephen Bulgar, or the Angell Gallery at 12 Ossington, to see the work of Jon Rafman. Luckily they’re only a block apart – and both are subjects for follow up posts.

A final admission: This isn’t officially the last weekend of the festival. But really, you need the extra push, don’t you?

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Spectacle and Substance

It’s spring and the CONTACT festival is in (nearly) full bloom in Toronto. ” Nearly”  because a number of big shows are starting later in the month. That’s good.

Going from gallery to gallery as I am, I can’t help but be hyper-aware of the chasm between the imagery in the galleries and that which surrounds us. Something’s bothering me about it, and it’s not the crush of imagery – I regularly use that imagery in my work – Product Man (below) is a good example.

Something entirely different is going on, and that’s because our “surround” now includes imagery from within, creeping insistently into our lives from the digital tools in our pockets, like our instagram feeds. And that’s not all. While working photographers around the world are grasping at the meaning, power and use of public art, advertisers and instagramers have fallen in love with fairy-tale narratives.

Take these three images – the middle from an ad for a beauty magazine; the first and third from my instagram feed. Each of these photos is enormously popular. But really, they’re all average photos with little to recommend them, other than the fantastic application of various post production procedures. They seem to be valuable because they’re other-worldly. Their value is all about spectacle.

            

 

 

 

John Doyle put his finger on the phenomenon perfectly in today’s Globe & Mail. The divide, he said, is between the spectacular and the substantial. And he described the substantial perfectly in the television context as “textured drama that has a concreteness in its purpose and transcends escapist storytelling to find a moral purpose”.

Amen.

I couldn’t have said it better. Just substitute the word drama with photograph.

A hearty thanks to Mr. Doyle for the clarity of his phrase. Now I’m ready to get blogging about some of the wonderfully substantial work on view this month and well into June .

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Out of the Blue

Sometimes the nicest things come out of the blue.

Monday morning I learned that Canadian Photography Online featured an article on my work, and they had some lovely things to say. “David Goorevitch’s images are truly impressive.“, they begin, noting the length of time I’ve logged in photography’s trenches and articulating very closely what I’m trying to do. 

Besides the added followers they’ve sent my way, it’s a thrill to be included in the company of so many great Canadian photographers whose work I admire: BurtynskyCohenHerzog and so on. There are some missing pieces of course, like Osheen Harruthoonyanat, who I blogged about last November, but I imagine they’ll catch up. I’ve spent the afternoon introducing myself to several brilliant artists I’d not yet heard about: Lung Liu, for example, an awesome, self-taught photographer from Vietnam. Have a look at their site – it’s an invaluable primer on who’s who in Canadian photography.

All of David’s work is a fresh take on the overwhelming nature of urban life.”, the piece continues. “The pressure of advertising and modern architecture in a continual struggle against each other for the attention of every passerby.  The stress they create is palpable in his images.”

Shostakovich asserted that an artist only needs three things: Praise, praise and praise.

Thank you CPO. You’ve given me all three!

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