There’s a photo that seems to sum up so much about photography today that it appears twice at this year’s Contact photography festival, the local celebration of pictures and the people who take them that’s blossomed in the last 12 years into the largest festival of its kind in the world. It’s a photo by Robert Burley that shows a crowd watching the implosion of a pair of buildings; the crowd has its back to us, and the buildings are completely obscured by a rolling cloud of dust.
It’s only when you read the title that you learn that the buildings being demolished are in Rochester, N.Y., and were part of Kodak’s once-vast manufacturing plant. In the foreground, we notice a Kodak shirt on a woman in the crowd, and we realize that most of the spectators are probably there to watch their livelihoods, and a piece of manufacturing history, disappear forever. It’s part of a quartet of prints by Burley featured in a show at the Museum Of Contemporary Canadian Art.
Festival director Bonnie Rubenstein says the Burley image was selected to sum up this particular moment in the history of the medium. “We’ve very deliberately chosen that image and reproduced it on a massive scale, and while there are various ways you can produce a large scale billboard, we were able to utilize this brand new technology that’s been developed by 3M, and the surprise is is that it looks like a painting.”
This poignant moment in the history of photography is summed up by several artists in the festival, which brings together almost 700 photographers in more than 220 venues, ranging from art galleries to restaurants.
Contact runs until May 31. The Museum Of Contemporary Canadian Art, at 952 Queen St. W., can be reached for more information at 416-395-0067.