Those giant portraits in Nathan Phillips Square? The wash of color and craft opens doors to photography in the heart of Toronto

First of all, an apology.

Writing this monthly column has always been a challenge and it finally slipped my mind last fall. I wasn’t going to end it so abruptly, but when that window opened up between Delta and Omicron, my schedule was suddenly full of catching up on long-delayed projects.

Planning and time management went right out that window and dragged this column in their wake. I accidentally ghosted you, dear reader, and I’m truly sorry. To make up for it, by the grace of my editor, I return for this one last column and a proper farewell.

When I was asked to be Toronto’s second photo laureate in 2019, this column was the very first idea I pitched. The invitation was generous in scope, with few concrete requirements and the latitude to fulfill the role in line with my artistic interests.

This position is the first of its kind in Canada, and the only expectation was that I would be willing to serve as an ambassador for photography and visual arts in the city, using my perspective to spark a dialogue about contemporary issues.

Since we live in hypervisual times, these are already intertwined: much of what we think, believe and understand about the world is shaped by the production and circulation of images.

This has always been the case, but over the past two decades, the stakes have been raised digitally through the internet, social media and streaming television. With the visual deeply entrenched in contemporary culture, visual literacy – the ability to interpret, negotiate and understand information presented in the form of an image – is an increasingly important 21st century skill.

My hope then was that I could spend my three-year term expanding this wealth for Torontonians. Instead of focusing on to make photos, I was more interested in to think about pictures aloud and encourages us to think about the work that makes pictures to do

Writing in Canada’s largest daily newspaper seemed like an exciting way to do that, and I’m grateful to have been given this space. It has been a privilege to have this platform, a platform that I have never taken lightly, even though I struggled for several months to find something to say.

Ultimately, knowing that I need to speak to you every month sharpened my observations, making me more reflective and attentive to relevant issues and ideas. And given the Star’s diverse readership, I could go the extra mile by writing about the visual representation of a wide variety of topics, from climate change to vaccine selfies to photos with Santa Claus.

Given the Star’s diverse readership, I also sought depth by researching my topics and conducting interviews to provide you with as much information and insight as possible.

But whatever I wrote about, my preoccupations remained the same. Looking and seeing, ethics and consent, power and responsibility, these are the questions I constantly struggle with in my own work and which crop up here month after month.

These fixations were reflected in all the other activities I undertook during my time as a photo laureate, including lectures and tours, portfolio reviews with photographers, being a judge at Scarborough’s New View Photo Contest, and curating the “We Buy Gold” exhibit last summer.

Mine was, of course, the pandemic term, which meant some projects were cancelled. So, as I wrap up this month, it’s extra fun to be able to share one last project with you in the heart of our city.

Currently installed in the driveway in Nathan Phillips Square, “Shine On: Photographs from the BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program” is the inaugural exhibition of photographs taken by mentee participants in this homegrown Toronto initiative.

Founded by Sheridan College professor Heather Morton, the BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program was launched in September 2020 as a way to address systemic barriers facing emerging BIPOC photographers and with the aim of encouraging diversity in the industry.

That month, in this column, I wrote about the program and the important actions it took in response to the protests and the black squares and hot air of the summer of 2020. Since then, more than 100 photography professionals have stepped forward to capture more than 210 opportunities for mentorship.

The mentorships were diverse in structure and content: from handling business inquiries over the phone, providing opportunities on set, providing project-specific critique via Zoom and FaceTime, offering structured research and recording assignments, to hosting virtual group-based checks. -ins and encouragements. Like many others, I was curious about the results.

The opportunity came from the Doors Open Toronto team and, as you can see above, the result is a wowser. Ranging from portraits to fashion to still lifes, the 15 huge photographs on display adorn the town hall in a wash of color and craft.

By highlighting the work of these photographers, the exhibition responds to this year’s Doors Open theme, “Renewal”, and touches on “the awakening of the world to deep-seated social, cultural and environmental inequalities, injustice and imbalances.” “.

But the theme can be encapsulated even better by the relationships forged between these mentors and mentees. While the work of the mentees is rightly written big, “Shine On” also wants to celebrate the mentors’ efforts to renew our photographic industry.

This is the cause I shared as your photo laureate, and it was truly my honor to serve. The city has invested in me, as have you, and I’m grateful for that. Thanks for reading and for watching and seeing.

“Shine On: Photographs from the BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program” is on view through May 31. Presented by Doors Open Toronto in association with the BIPOC Photo Mentorship Program, CONTACT and ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022. Doors Open Toronto is presented by Great Gulf and produced by the City of Toronto.

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