Top 10 exhibits at Toronto’s Contact festival

Top 10 exhibits at Toronto’s Contact festival
Josef Schulz's explorations of utilitarian structures

Now in its 15th year, Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival is the world’s biggest photography festival, with more than 1,500 artists participating in the month-long event, held at galleries and outdoor spaces throughout Toronto. Here are our top 10 shows not to be missed.

1. It’s hard to resist admiring the contrast of cool functionalism and upbeat colour that Josef Schulz finds in utilitarian structures. Appropriately, a suite of his large-format photographs depicting these unsung buildings is installed at Pearson Airport, the ultimate example of functional architecture. Pearson International Airport, Terminal One.

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2. I discovered Fred Herzog only a year ago, even though the Vancouver photographer was in his prime during the 1960s, capturing the street culture of Vancouver just as it was expanding from town to city. His love for Kodachrome slides, rather than prints, meant he rarely exhibited his work, yet he captured working class Vancouver with the same uncanny eye as André Kertész revealed to the world Paris in the 1920s. Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen St W.

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3. Alain Paiement’s bird’s-eye-view may be a one-trick pony, but what a great trick. To produce his above-it-all perspectives, the artist employs a 3-D modelling software typically used by architects and video game programmers to render spatial perspectives without a vanishing point. While they might seem faked, the environments are actually depicted in their “found” – that is, unstaged – condition. Brookfield Place, Allen Lambert Galleria, 181 Bay St.

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4. Denis Darzacq’s worked with young dancers and athletes to perform gravity-defying jumps in front of his camera. Without special effects or digital manipulation, the French photographer captures delicate moments of tense levitation, where models seem to be either floating in mid-air or plunging to the ground. Alliance Française de Toronto – Galerie Pierre-Léon, 24 Spadina Rd.

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5. Shai Kremer documents the militarization of Israeli society by photographing buildings originally created for military defence and enforcement that have subsequently become normalized features of the landscape. His latest series, Fallen Empires, takes a long view of history, capturing how successive imperialist forces – Roman, Arab, Ottoman, British, Israeli – have left their marks on both the built and natural environment. Julie M. Gallery, 15 Mill St, Bldg 37

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6. Robert Bourdeau’s large-format photographs document age-old landscapes, historical architecture and inactive industrial sites reclaimed by nature. He also favours long exposures, which is what give his photographs such clarity and majesty. Stephen Bulger Gallery, 1026 Queen St W.

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7. Dayanita Singh’s cinematic photographs transform the nocturnal city into a surreal world. Her moonlit landscapes are lush with artificial colour, sharp contrasts between shadows and light, and, somehow, she manages to imbue mundane settings with a threatening air. Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen St W.

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8. Richard Johnson makes Canada’s ice fishing villages look like Whoville. He’s attracted to the way individual ice huts in these frosty sites come together to form communities without any planning or property boundaries. Yet, over time, an unofficial infrastructure is in place, with roads getting plowed, “bait shops” being set up and so on. Maybe urban planning is overrated after all? Richard Johnson Photography Studio, 971 O’Connor Dr.

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9. The sad reality is that Edward Burtynsky will likely never run out of subject matter. The renowned photographer spends his life taking aerial photographs of human-made disasters around the globe. On view at the ROM, his Oil series presents the various stages of our oil dependence – from “Extraction and Refinenment” to “The End of Oil” – through landscapes of oil slicks, mountains of car tires, and massive refineries rendered with transfixing, detached clarity that’s frightening and fascinating all at once. Royal Ontario Museum, 100 Queen’s Park

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10. James Nizam’s photographs focus on Little Mountain Housing Project, the oldest public housing development in Vancouver, which was recently demolished to make way for a condo and social housing. Over the course of several months, Nizam found poetry between the old and new by constructing sculptures out of the doors, drawers and shelves that were left behind. Very Droog. Birch Libralato Gallery, 129 Tecumseth St.

Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival runs for the month of May at venues throughout Toronto. For details, visit the website at

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