Copyright © 1997. All Rights Reserved.
The road to hell is wallpapered with politically correct photographs
by Mark Walton
Many Faces - One Voice
Until January 23
Gosh, Canada's a wonderful place.
Winsome lasses fiddlin' and grinnin' in a Moncton park; a cheery old-timer showing off his bagpipes on Baffin Island; people of different creeds and color frolicking on a beach or yukkin' it up in a taxi.
Hey, there's a lovable looking punkster, a couple of gay bodybuilders, and a guy in a police uniform sporting a turban. There is no racial tension, no poverty or labor unrest, no political or social strife. Heck, we're all one big happy family.
That's how it is in Many Faces - One Voice, a display of approximately 200 black-and-white photographs "augmented" with the "words" of some of Canada's top poets and writers. Organized by the nonprofit Toronto-based Harmony Movement, and Photo-Sensitive, an association of humanist photographers, the traveling exhibit curated by Vancouver artists Tom Graff is aimed at "promoting harmonious interaction and co-operation amongst all people."
In fact, the folks in these photos are interacting so harmoniously it made me want to jump in a car and scream at someone in traffic, just to feel normal.
It's not that they're unworthy subjects; it's the way they're photographed that's the problem. For the most part, it's superficial, trite or riddled with contemporary art clichés.
Many of these photos are displayed as multiple images in pseudo-snapshot fashion, however, they pack less punch than Uncle Henry's family photo album. For example, Paul Wong's cleverly laid out poster-like collages provide a glimpse of Chinese cafés in rural Saskatchewan, but too often he simply relies on people hamming it up for the camera.
When you consider the credentials of these professional photographers and "artists working in a photographic medium" the results are disappointing. The shots of an Aboriginal drumming session look like they were whipped off by a timid tourist and fail to capture the tone of this intense physical and spiritual activity.
Many Faces - One Voice proves that not all photojournalists are artists and that artists should learn more about the craft of photography before venturing into the medium. The artist Qing Qing, for instance, utilizes that greatly abused avant-garde art technique "text" with restraint and aplomb, however, her piece suffers from its amateurish manner of presentation.
I raised my concerns about this show with Triangle director Jacek Malek, who diplomatically describes it as a grassroots exhibit not necessarily meant to be art with a capital "A." He points out, with some justification, the images and words are best viewed as a "photographic notebook." And, I'll admit I have a passion for documentary still-photography, so I'm probably being hypercritical.
Nevertheless, the only group of photos that really held my attention was Tony Hauser's series of portraits of Canadians in locales such as the Atlantic coast or a small Northern community. I've never been a big fan of photosculpture, however, his laminated photo boxes featuring two larger-than-life portrait heads on the outside and mis en scène or background on the inside, are truly fascinating.
Despite the stark naturalism of the faces - every bump, wart and hair stands out in sharp relief (reminiscent of Arnaud Magg's '80s portraits) - they're open-ended, creating context and prompting questions about the relationship between the people and their surroundings.
The artful Toronto photographer's portrait series expresses what the rest of this show lacks: the uniqueness and complexity of the Canadian mosaic.
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