(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)
The Ryerson Image Centre celebrates the opening of four new photography exhibitions tonight, and for those with a love for vintage photos of Toronto and other locations and events throughout Canada, there is a real reason to smile. For the first time in its history, every image from the renowned Black Star Collection that was filed under the heading ‘Canada’ will be on public view.
The more than a quarter of a million photographs in the Black Star Collection describe the personalities, events and conflicts of the twentieth century. This invaluable historical archive and visual record was gifted to Ryerson University in 2005. In Black Star Subject: Canada, a collaboration between interdisciplinary artist Pierre Tremblay and curator Don Snyder, every one of the 1,853 photographs filed under the subject heading ‘Canada’ is animated and displayed on the Salah J. Bachir New Media Wall at the entrance to the gallery. It features images of all major cities, agriculture, mining and industry of every province; images of prime ministers from Mackenzie King to John Turner; and, images of a nation undergoing unprecedented growth.
The historic Black Star images form a visual counterpoint to the exhibits of contemporary Canadian photographers Robert Burley and Phil Bergerson to be found within the Diamond Schmitt Architects-designed walls.
Since 2005, photographer Robert Burley has documented the demise of film manufacturing facilities and industrial darkrooms in Canada, USA, and Europe. With the decline of traditional photographic materials and methods, companies like Kodak and Polaroid, among the most innovative and profitable corporations of their time, have become victims of a digital age.
The large-format colour prints that make up The Disappearance of Darkness address the swift breakdown of a century-old industry and its resulting economic impact. Burley’s photographs explore the large, windowless factories of Kodak, Polaroid, Agfa, and Ilford as well as little known places where, for the past century, rolls of film were churned out on a massive scale. A series of photos chronicles the end of the 23-hectare Kodak Canada plant in Toronto’s Mount Dennis neighbourhood before its closure and demolition in 2005. Building 9 is the only remaining structure—one which will soon find itself integrated in with a station and yard for the Crosstown LRT.
Over the course of dozens of road trips, photographer Phil Bergerson slowly worked his way through hundreds of towns and cities across the United States. He photographed street scenes and everyday objects in the social landscape tradition akin to that of predecessors Robert Frank and Nathan Lyons.
Though entirely absent of people, the photographs he brought back form a portrait of the country at the time and a nod to its past. Emblems and Remnants of the American Dream is a collection of documentary style images with recurring themes of religion, commercial fantasies, violence and patriotism that he discovered in street art, crudely made signs, and modest store displays.
Emerging artist Elisa Julia Gilmour produces analog photographic and cinematic work that captures fleeting moments in the human experience. The recent graduate’s installation Something in Someone’s Eye features a series of four cinematic portraits that alternate between small movements and photographic stillness. Using the now-discontinued colour reversal Kodak Ektachrome film, the work brings life to a material that will completely disappear in time.
The opening reception is tonight, from 6-8pm. Exhibitions of the work of Robert Burley, Phil Bergerson and Pierre Tremblay run from January 22nd until April 13th at the Ryerson Image Centre at 33 Gould Street. Elisa Julia Gilmour’s work is on view in the Student Gallery from January 22nd until March 2nd. Entrance is free. For more information, see http://www.ryerson.ca/ric/