Here are the eight coolest exhibits at this year’s Contact Photography Festival

Here are the eight coolest exhibits at this year’s Contact Photography Festival

Toronto art lovers missing their halcyon days of gallery hopping rejoice: Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival is back for its silver jubilee edition with a mixture of outdoor, virtual and—when it’s safe to do so—indoor photo exhibitions running until December 15. Here are eight shows you don’t want to miss.

Helen Spitzer, Dog Man (Dovercourt), 2020
A springtime walk

What: HyperLocal by Helen Spitzer
Where you can see it: Fix Coffee and Bikes; Cygnet Coffee, to June 20

Writer and photographer Helen Spitzer began photographing her Dufferin Grove neighbourhood just before the first lockdown last spring, and continued her project as the pandemic raged. She captured intimate scenes of anonymous neighbours as they go about daily rituals—like walking their dogs or getting groceries—when every other aspect of life felt abnormal.


“Girl in Ice Block,” August 20, 1966, Canadian National Exhibition Archives, MG5-F1620-I4. Courtesy of the CNEA
The CNE in new light

What: Play Public by Erik Kessels and Thomas Mailaender
Where you can see it: The Bentway Studio at Canoe Landing, June 7 to September 26

Erik Kessels, a Dutch artist and designer, and Thomas Mailaender, a French multimedia artist, are drawn to the absurd, often collecting wacky images under themes like ’80s family album portraits, design failures and strangers photobombing vacation photos. For Contact, the artists took a deep dive into the CNE’s archives to find weird, wonderful and perplexing captures from the fairgrounds that resurrect the whimsical spirit of the longstanding (and currently on pause) summer fair. In “Girl in Ice Block” from 1966, for instance, a cheery and brave fair-goer is encased in a giant ice cube—then a playful CNE attraction.


Esmond Lee, “Jame Abu Bakr Siddique,” 2019. Courtesy of the artist
A spiritual journey

What: Gods Among Us by Esmond Lee
Where you can see it: Malvern Town Centre, June 1 to October 15

Inspired by memories of going to church with his mother and the sense of belonging he felt there, the photographer and architect Esmond Lee—who is second-generation Chinese-Canadian—documents Scarborough’s many faith communities and their houses of worship. The spaces often also double as gathering places for new immigrants, like Muslim community hub Jame Abu Bakr Siddique Masjid, perched next door to a strip mall.


Margaret Gdyczynski, “The Ace,” 2018
A coffee date

What: Coffee Confession by Margaret Gdyczynski
Where you can see it:; Extra Butter Coffee, to June 30

Toronto-based photographer Margaret Gdyczynski’s exhibit features digital-composite tableaux of shared interior spaces, created through the process of double exposure. In “The Ace,” she layers images of the intimate Roncesvalles diner on top of each other to create a glowing romantic tableau evoking the passage of time—and a collective longing for the return of the cozy candlelit restaurant scene.


Stephen Attong, “Rolling,” 2020
An island staycation

What: Endless Summer by Stephen Attong
Where you can see it: Milky’s Coffee, to May 21

Toronto-based Trinidadian photographer Stephen Attong captures nostalgic, sensory-rich scenes of an urban summer. He shot these paddle boarders over the reflection of the skyline at dusk from Ward Island in August 2020 after stumbling across the group entering the inlet.


Esmaa Mohamoud, The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us), (detail), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Georgia Scherman Projects
A large-scale representation

What: The Brotherhood FUBU (For Us, By Us) by Esmaa Mohamoud
Where you can see it: Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre; Harbour Square Park, to April 2023

African-Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud’s work focuses on the representation of Black masculinity in popular culture. Her large-scale photographic mural at Westin Harbour Castle Conference Centre—the first of a two-part project shot in Lake Ontario’s frigid waters in September 2020—explores the dynamics of gender and race in its depiction of two Black male bodies, connected by the symbol of the do-rag.


Atanas Bozdarov and Craig Rodmore, Every Ramp on Queen Street West (large metal), 2020
A queen’s walk

What: Every Step on Queen Street West and Every Ramp on Queen Street West by Atanas Bozdarov and Craig Rodmore
Where you can see it: Type Books, to May 30

Drawing from Ed Ruscha’s 1966 book Every Building on the Sunset Strip, artists Atanas Bozdarov and Craig Rodmore set out to archive every entrance along Queen Street West. Steps and ramps, like the one shown above, dictate how we move through the city—and for some, grant or prohibit access. They shot two photo collections—one of steps, the other of ramps—and the disparity between the two shines an unsettling light the lack of accessible infrastructure in our cities.


Vincent Browne, “Kawhi Leonard,” 2019
We the champs

What: Raptors Fever by Vincent F. Browne, Jonah Zapparoli, Reed Wyman and David Ofori Zapparoli
Where you can see it:

Raptors Fever is an archive of images from what is arguably the most momentous day in recent Toronto sports history: the Raptors 2019 NBA championship parade. On June 17, two million champagne-soaked Canadians flooded the streets of downtown Toronto to celebrate the team’s triumph and catch a glimpse of the parade buses as they inched towards Nathan Phillips Square. Photographers Vincent Browne, Jonah Zapparoli, Reed Wyman and David Ofori Zapparoli joined the sea of revellers to document the historic day—not just for fans, but for an entire city.