CONTACT 2019. Violence — Jill Glessing

[Fall 2019]

By Jill Glessing

Violence runs through our lives, experienced directly or through media representations. We are subject to its power to varying degrees depending on our geographical location, race, class, gender, and access to high-speed internet. We are well acquainted with the variety of ways that humans inflict harm – whether physical, social, or psychological – upon one another. It is not odd, then, that violence appears as a prominent thread within a photography festival. After all, it has been an enduring subject in photography, represented in the medium even before the technology could freeze motion. Despite the absence of actual battle in Roger Fenton’s propagandistic Crimean war scenes, the images clearly referenced the destruction; similarly, ethnography pinned the vulnerable, often naked, bodies of its subjects onto photographic papers and plates, forcing their permanent exposure to the racist imperialist gaze. No such uses appeared in the 23rd edition of Toronto’s CONTACT Photography Festival;1 instead, the featured artists used the
medium to analyze and critique violence within a range of contexts.

Among them, celebrated African American artist Carrie Mae Weems, who enjoyed a spotlight this year with exhibitions in two venues and three public installations, provided the broadest view. Heave, at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto,2 scanned the turbulent history of Weems’s own country’s infliction of pain around the globe, beginning with the last gasps of the Second World War. Through video, photography, and installation, Weems took us through that sad history to show, beyond the borders of the United States, the horrors of Hiroshima and Vietnam and, inside the country, a list that included segregation, the civil rights movement, student protests, and political assassinations, bringing us to the ongoing police violence against black men…

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1 The Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival was held in Toronto 1–31 May 2019.
2 Curated by Barbara Fischer and Sarah Robayo Sheridan, the exhibition Heave was presented 4 May–27 July 2019