Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Making Contact

Contact Photography Festival features plenty of Can-queer content

JJ Levine, Rae 2012, 30 x 40 inch photograph

Even if you took the entire month of May, it would be practically impossible to see all the work at the Contact Photography Festival. Featuring more than 1,500 Canadian and international artists exhibiting at more than 175 venues, the annual festival peppers photographs, films and installations across the GTA.

Ranging from tiny shows in coffee shops, to panels on subway platforms, to major exhibitions at the city’s top venues, the event injects art throughout the public space. Curated under the theme Field of Vision, this year’s program seeks to explore how photography enables us to see the world.

Chicago-based artist Doug Ischar’s series Marginal Waters was shot over the summer of 1985. Captured at the city’s now-defunct gay beach, known as the Belmont Rocks, the images feature all manner of men lounging and cruising on the shores of Lake Michigan. Completed the summer before Ischar entered graduate school, the photos’ languid tone betrays a complex and terrifying reality bubbling just below the surface.

“AIDS was in full force, and I knew full well many of these men would not survive it,” Ischar says. “I feared the wonderful social openness shown in the pictures might also disappear as a result of the epidemic and ensuing backlash. I felt like I was working under the gun. People have asked why there are no signs of trouble in these pictures. I wasn’t after trouble, but rather the joyous, tender aspects of public intimacy that characterized gay life before AIDS.”

JJ Levine offers a completely different spin on portraiture with the aptly titled Queer Portraits. An ongoing project since 2006, the series includes images of Levine’s friends, siblings and lovers, all shot in the subject’s own home.

“I’m attracted to the elements of comfort and familiarity that come through when people are in their own living spaces,” Levine says. “I think a lot about queer space as a realm for the development of community and a refuge from the sometimes harsh or scary reality of the mainstream, public sphere.  I’m also interested in making images of beauty as I see it, working with aesthetics, genders and bodies that I rarely see represented from my perspective as an insider within a marginalized community.”

Rex Pride isn’t an artist, but rather a youth-led art collective, based in Toronto’s Rexdale neighbourhood. Founded in 2011, the group provides a safe space for youth to share stories and build support networks. Rexdale is one of the city’s most diverse communities, and the group’s exhibition pays homage to that. Though Contact is known as a photography festival, the 15 participating youth have created a genre-defying show that includes graphic design, writing, origami and performance, as well as photographs.

“We attempt to give space for self-exploration, mainly through art,” says founder Terrence Rodriguez. “All the youth enjoyed creating, so we thought it would be a great way to share their work, give voice to their struggles and debunk some of the myths, stereotypes and false perceptions about their community.”

Doug Ischar: Undertow
Fri, May 3–Sat, June 15
V tape
401 Richmond St W, Unit 452

Tues–Sat, 11–5pm
Fri, May 3–Sat, June 15
Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography
401 Richmond St W, Unit 120
Tues–Sat, 11–5pm

JJ Levine: Queer Portraits
Wed, May 1–Fri, May 31
Gladstone Hotel Art Bar
1214 Queen St W

Mon–Sun, noon–5pm
Fri, May 3–Sat, June 15
Gallery 44, Vitrines
401 Richmond St W, Unit 120
Tues–Sat, 11–5pm

Rex Pride: Q-MAP
Mon, April 29–Sun, July 14
Arts Etobicoke Gallery
4893A Dundas St W
Mon–Fri, 11–4pm