A historic portrait series, glammed-up pups and nine other things to see at this year’s Contact Photography Festival

A historic portrait series, glammed-up pups and nine other things to see at this year’s Contact Photography Festival

The world’s largest annual photography extravaganza returns to Toronto this month to transform the city into a sprawling gallery of contemporary art, featuring work by more than 200 artists from around the world. This year’s highlights include Soviet landscapes, evocative self-portraits and vintage shots of artistic icons. Here’s a sneak peek at the exhibits you won’t want to miss.

Vivek Shraya, “Trauma Clown,” 2019, courtesy of the artist and Patel Studios

A performative portrait series
1Last year, Calgary-based multidisciplinary artist and writer Vivek Shraya wrote about what it was like to have masculinity forced on her as a kid—and the long process of unlearning those gender roles as a trans woman—in her debut memoir, I’m Afraid of Men. For her latest project, she partnered with Edmonton photographer Zachary Ayotte to create a series of performative portraits that examine her childhood trauma. May 4 to June 2. Patel Projects.

Naomi Harris, 2018, courtesy of the artist and Stackt

A glamorous pup tribute
2Toronto’s own Naomi Harris recreates the portraiture style of George Hurrell—the 1930s photographer to the stars who practically invented old Hollywood glamour—using Instagram-famous cats and dogs as her subjects. May 11 to 26. Stackt.

Ayana v. Jackson, “Aaffronia” from the series Intimate Justice in the Stolen Moment, 2017, courtesy of the artist and Galerie Baudoin Lebon

An alternative history  
3American photographer and filmmaker Ayana V. Jackson staged a series of self-portraits revisiting colonial North America’s history of slavery and racism. She plays a different character in each photograph, cycling through a century’s worth of costumes to recast history with better representation of black women. May 1 to June 2. Campbell House Museum.

Robert Mapplethorpe, “Patti Smith,” 1988, © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, used by permission

A gender-bending icon 
4Robert Mapplethorpe was known for pushing boundaries, shooting scenes from underground gay BDSM clubs in Manhattan, but he was a staunch formalist who drew inspiration from Michelangelo in his quest for classical perfection. Here, he photographs long-time artistic partner Patti Smith, whose debut album, Horses, featured another Mapplethorpe portrait on its cover. May 1 to June 1. Olga Korper Gallery.

Sputnik Photo Collective, “Anaklia, Georgia, an Unfinished Viewing Tower,” 2013, courtesy of the artists

A glimpse at a post-Soviet world 
5For their latest project, members of Poland’s Sputnik Photos spent eight years documenting contemporary life in the former U.S.S.R. Their images illustrate Russia’s continuing influence in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia, as well as the tension between empire nostalgia and nascent democracy. The photo above depicts an unfinished coastal viewing tower in Anaklia, Georgia. April 29 to May 31. Allen Lambert Galleria.

Aysir Batniji, “no. 52” from the series Untitled (Gaza Walls), 2001, courtesy of the artist

A different kind of street art 
6Gaza-born photographer Taysir Batniji has spent decades capturing the ordinary things Gazans see every day—like the mishmash of political posters, slogans and graffiti on the streets of Gaza City. His Gaza Walls series highlights the alternate role of the city’s walls as a form of information media. May 3 to June 22. Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art.

Meryl McMaster, “In the Edge of this Immensity” from the series As Immense as the Sky, 2019, chromogenic print, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Pierre-François Ouellette Art Contemporain

A tale of two ancestries 
7Ottawa-based artist Meryl McMaster constructs self-portraits using larger-than-life costumes and props that pay homage to her European and Indigenous ancestries. This photo comes from a series on pivotal Canadian landscapes, which includes shots from the plains of Saskatchewan and the first points of settler contact in Newfoundland. May 1 to August 4. Ryerson Image Centre.

Gisèle Freund, “Colette,” 1938, gift of Valerie Burton and David Milman, 1985, 85/580, courtesy of the AGO

A female-forward history 
8The French writer Colette’s husband locked her in a room, forced her to complete a series of novels, and published them under his name. Her vivid, masterfully written stories were wildly successful, but she never earned a dime from them. This shot of Colette at work years later, taken by documentary photographer Gisèle Freund, is part of a larger series focused on women in the 1920s and ’30s. It honours the remarkable careers of those whose talent was often undermined by the misogyny of their time. April 27 to November 10. Art Gallery of Ontario.

Sanaz Mazinani, “Not Elsewhere” (detail: Thunderbird in Performance), 2019, courtesy of the artist and Stephen Bulger Gallery

Kaleidoscopic collages
9Iranian–Canadian multidisciplinary artist Sanaz Mazinani creates kaleidoscopic collages from ordinary photographs—like this image, which started off as a warplane. The final murals are meant to resemble Islamic scrolls. May 1 to 31. Aga Khan Museum.

Carrie Mae Weems, “Slow Fade to Black—Mahalia Jackson,” 2009-10, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York

A tribute to black icons 
10Renowned American photographer Carrie Mae Weems examines the social fault lines of gender, class, race and power. Her Slow Fade to Black series features portraits of mid-20th-century stars like jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald and renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson (pictured here). April 29 to May 31. Metro Hall.

louie palu, “Canadian rangers from Resolute Bay and Arctic Bay training soldiers in arctic survival at temperatures as low as -60 c at the crystal city training site in Resolute Bay, Nunavut,” 2015-2018, © Louie Palu for National Geographic

A Canadian climate change study 
11Canadian documentary photographer Louie Palu’s latest series looks at the effects of climate change and geopolitical tensions in the North American Arctic. Here, he captures Canadian rangers training in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, where there has been increasing militarization over the past few years. May 18 to Aug. 18. McMichael Canadian Art Collection.


May 8, 2019

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that increasing militarization in Resolute Bay, Nunavut has forced nearby Inuit communities off their land.