I was at Contact, the Toronto Photography Festival, last week. As usual, it's a great collection of photographer's work from not just Toronto, but around the world. There are over 175 exhibits at various galleries, restaurants, shops, and public spaces. It's even bigger than last year (which may not be all a good thing). I saw a lot of sites over a space of 5 days - some great, a lot good, some lame. Of the over 60 venues I saw, I could recommend maybe 20.
I believe the process for Contact is that an artist finds a venue, shows them some of their work and convinces them to exhibit it as part of Contact. Then they pay a fee of several hundred dollars and agree to host an opening day party at the venue. I think that means the entries are not really juried, and for some that showed. One venue, a dress shop on Queen W., had two large prints on a wall by the door, vaguely grey pictures of Kennebunkport Maine in the fog. Or could have been Toronto Island. I didn't even notice them at first, I caught them in the corner of my eye and at first thought they were just fabric covered panels. The artist is described in the brochure as examining "loss". I agree. Some I saw were thought provoking, such as the composite images of semi-nudes by John Oswald at the Edward Day Gallery on Queen West, photos of Burlesque Dancers by Michel Mersereau, at Kaleidoscope Gallery, and some very well done B/W prints, on a sepia toned warm paper, by Brian Anderson at Latitude 44 Gallery. Both of those in the Junction area. The Junction BIA (Business Improvement Association) did a great job of coordinating the exhibitions in their area, complete with signposts outside each venue.
Some artists suffered by the venue choice. One in the Junction area had six little prints in the window of an antique store, hidden by some sale items leaning against the store front. Some are evening only, in a bar, some are in restaurants where you peer over someones lunch table. Great exposure for the patrons, but not for a casual drop-in, so you ensure you're there off-peak hours. I was there during the week, usually after lunch, and as a bonus got to talk with several of the photographers themselves.
The Contact catalogue was not available until a few weeks before contact started, and when I called in advance from Ottawa I was told they could send me a copy, for $10. I wanted to scan through ahead of time and plan as to when to be in Toronto, with locations marked up. The catalogue has maps with numbers that relate to catalogue entries, but you then need to go through to confirm the show is open that day, and also to mark the street address on the map. While is is a May festival, some shows are on for only a couple of weeks in May, some even start in April, or finish in June. Luckily, my sister was nice enough to pick one up and send it (almost free), but there seemed to be a pile in every venue, free for the taking. Lots of money for publishing, so maybe a cheaper mail out would help. There were different "views" of the catalogue available on-line, by exhibitions or programs, but I prefer an actual catalogue to browse through, and carry to add notes on sites I like.
Finally - there is an on-line survey, but it's mostly oriented to checking off various boxes - where you heard of Contact, overall rating, household income - no space for free-form contacts.
I'll list the locations I liked below, by catalogue number, with a few comments.
Num Exhibit Artist Comments
2 Conjuring Cricket Michael Phang
6 Global Fusion 15 various artists Some good, but too many artists
15 Datascapes Joan Fontcuberta Googlegrams
26 Triophoto 3 artists
55 Liebe Jonathan Forsythe
79 Letters Stephania Aloise More other good artists in the back
88 Being in Africa Nancy Ceneviva
89 Time Waves Gera Dillon
92 Candied/Royal Perspectives Michel Mersereau/Janis Rees
93 Various Brian Anderson, Mark Furman, Marilyn Lightstone
96 Theatre of the Street Simon Willmns
114 Prize Winning Photographs Chris Gergley
118 Imaging a Shattered Earth Edward Burtynsky, etc.
140 Hoops Greg Majster
148 Director's Design Competition Various students
150 Tasty Various Lots of images
158 Ship Wreckers Tomasz Gudzowaty
Edit - May 27 - I sent a note to one of the galleries in the junction, Latitude 44, with some feedback expanding on the above note. Rather than retype the whole post, I'll just append my note here.
· It was great to be able to talk to many of the artists when I dropped in – I realize it can be long days for some to be there, but it was appreciated.
· Some of the venues had a lot of great art. Some only a few, and some mediocre work. It would be nice if there was a minimum number of pictures at each place. I’m not sure if all venues should be juried or not – it would help the quality, but can be time consuming and tends to impose standards from a panel of “official” artists
· Some venues had at least 6 artists crammed in, with only a few from each. If there was an overall theme, fine, but sometimes it looked like it was just done to share the $450 fee. Maybe the fees need to be adjusted some way depending on artist’s popularity/bank balance, or grants be made available.
· I’m from out of town and wanted a catalogue ahead of time to check out when and where to go. I called and Contact would send me one, but it was $10, a little steep considering the huge piles I saw at each venue. Might be better to drop the mailing cost a bit in the budget. There was info online, but the various “views” of it were hard to sort through. I prefer a hard copy to mark up.
· Speaking of marking up the catalogue – maps only have venue numbers on them. I prefer to do a walking tour of an area, but that means using the catalogue to check out each venue number, see if it’s open, and then check out the address – and scribble all that on the map. Then use the catalogue to make notes on shows that I like. I have no idea if there’s a better way to manage that process, I just thought I’d mention how I use the catalogue. Maybe next year I’ll figure out a way to integrate the process better with my Treo PDA.
· Restaurants as a venue can be a good and bad thing. It means lots of exposure from all the patrons, but if I’m just there to see the pictures and they are all above the tables, I need to return when it’s quieter. Otherwise I’m leaning over with my hand in someone’s salad plate.
· The online survey had a series of multiple choice questions, but no place for comments. I realize free text is hard to categorize, but I think it still should be collected and looked at somehow.
· There’s a show opening here at the Ottawa Art Gallerythat has a podcast available, a collection of all the artists describing their approach to their art and a description of their exhibition. A little long at 50 minutes for a single podcast, but an interesting concept they are trying. Have you considered using podcasts for Contact? Maybe initially for the feature shows, just for The Junction portion. For a specific gallery with a lot of images it could be like an audio tour, but even a collection of 5 minute bits from each artist in a geographical area (Junction, Distillery) would be helpful.
· The Junction part of Contact was very impressive. Most of the work was very interesting, several of the artists were there, and I like the street signs outside of each venue. Sorry I missed the kickoff.