CONTACT 2017: Focus on Canada

Considering that the name “Canada” originated from the Huron word “Kanata,” meaning village, the act of placing a spotlight on this now vast nation is both palpable and untenable. A sharply defined image of a village is within reach, but a clear and accurate depiction of what has become, since Confederation in 1867, the world’s second largest country is impossible to capture in its entirety. The culturally diverse region inhabited by Indigenous peoples for at least 12,000 years is now composed of more than 50 First Nations and 200 ethnicities from across the globe. Shaped over time by settlers, armies, migrants, and refugees, Canada cannot realistically be described or perceived through the means of any singular event.

Cultivated through collaborations with cultural partners across the city, CONTACT 2017 converges on a central point in recognition of Canada’s sesquicentennial. While the Festival rebuffs the scope of a far-reaching survey, the Focus on Canada brings together a formidable progression of primary exhibitions in museum and galleries. From some of the earliest photographs taken in Canada, to recently commissioned photo-based works, these images map the evolution of the medium, and many are shown here for the first time. Our public installations—positioned on streets, billboards, and subway platforms; in civic and historical spaces; or suspended from the façades and interiors of buildings—transform urban environments with photographic imagery that insightfully convey an outstanding sense of place, throughout the city and across the country.

The multifarious projects that comprise this year’s core program are vividly described by the succeeding images and texts. However, it is important to note here the recurring subjects that appear throughout this focus, which speak to how this nation is perceived at the present moment. Naturally, visual records of the harsh reality and pastoral beauty of the Canadian landscape are a continuing theme. Immersive views capture the majesty of a prosperous nation defined by romantic ideas of nature. While some images are meditative reflections on picturesque scenes, others address issues of environmental degradation and echo calls for ecological preservation and renewal.

The photographic road trip is an enduring tradition that continues to evolve and can be experienced in numerous exhibitions this year. Engendering reverence, empathy, and envy, images captured by those that have embarked on widespread journeys uncover multifaceted explorations and unique perspectives on distant regions. In many instances, they reveal the resilience of rural and remote communities in the face of extreme adversity, and the persistence of cultural traditions. They tell stories about people—narratives that speak of national identities, with an acute awareness of place—and transport viewers to locations that for many remain far from reach.

Projects by several Indigenous artists are powerful reminders of Canada’s highly contentious colonial history and offer challenging perspectives on “official” narratives, through both evocative metaphors and documentary evidence. The legacy of colonialism, the painful history of the residential school system, and claims to ancestral territories inform a number of images positioned across Toronto.

The city serves as the subject and the setting for many artists as they frame the sociopolitical concerns of diverse communities, such as the state of its natural resources, the acceleration of its municipal developments, and the transformation of its civic spaces. These various works confront societal conventions, systems of prejudice, and complex constructions of identity, while also chronicling collective events and revealing both turbulent times and tender moments.

Perceptions of this country can also be informed by examining personal histories. Whether through stories that have been preserved, reinvented, or illuminated by narratives portraying shared or anonymous memories, each account invites a new perspective. Many exhibitions address the experience of migration, through both intimate and far-reaching lenses, and draw from photographic archives. They focus on issues pertinent to specific immigrant and diasporic communities, some of which have been here for generations, or examine the theme of mobility more broadly. All of these presentations resonate across time and space, and together create a complex depiction of Canada.

Artistic interventions unfold in locations across the city, merging tradition with innovation. As vestiges from the past inform monuments of the present, CONTACT 2017 embraces a spectrum of physically and conceptually engaged forms of viewing. Inviting interaction with images, and the people that surround them, this expansive range of programming places Canada’s 150th anniversary under the spotlight.

Bonnie Rubenstein
Artistic Director


The Festival’s curated programming—Primary Exhibitions and Public Installations—explores diverse subjects, motivated by artistic innovation and critical discourse locally, nationally and internationally. Collaborating with major museums and galleries, CONTACT presents outstanding photographic imagery that reflects issues relevant to our times and the history of the medium. In high profile sites, installations of images transform everyday activity in public space into unique encounters with works of art that resonate with their environment.

CONTACT’s community initiatives foster a wide range of interest in photography and enable meaningful exchanges between the people who make and present art, and those that view it. Selected through a call for submissions, Featured Exhibitions of lens-based works by artists from Canada and around the world are presented at established galleries across the city.

The foundation of CONTACT was based on an open call to participate, enabling emerging artists and photographers to show their work concurrent with exhibitions of works by leading professionals. Today the Open Exhibitions continue to encourage neighbourhood involvement at local galleries, community centres, educational and international institutions, cafes, retail stores, and many alternative locations.

CONTACT organizes and co-presents numerous Events and Workshops, including portfolio reviews, lectures, panel discussions, film screenings, and tours. Catering to all levels of interest in photography, these initiatives stimulate dialogue and encourage participation.

CONTACT reflects the all-encompassing influence of images in society and the extraordinary breath and scope of photography today, presenting a broad spectrum of work by lens-based artists, documentary photographers and photojournalists. The Festival increases exposure for all participants, commissions new work, supports professional development and occasions to learn. CONTACT embraces an inclusive and accessible approach to the medium, and cultivates collaborations with and among artists, curators, established institutions and diverse community groups and organizations. CONTACT is an advocate for the creative potential of partnerships to expand the practices of all involved, broaden our audience reach and build engagement with the visual arts locally and globally.



CONTACT is the largest photography event in the world, and a premiere cultural experience in Canada, with over 1500 artists in 200 exhibitions and happenings throughout the month in the Greater Toronto Area. Founded in 1997, CONTACT is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to celebrating and fostering the art and profession of photography.

All exhibitions and events are free to attend unless otherwise noted.





Darcy Killeen

Bonnie Rubenstein

Tara Smith

Heather Rigg

Benjamin Freedman

Brian St. Denis


Bartosz Gawdzik & Andrew Di Rosa

Shannon Anderson

Jen Cutts

Yarek Wazul



Advisory Board