Main Space
Public: Collective Identity | Occupied Spaces
Apr 27, 2012 - Jun 03, 2012

Barry Frydlender, Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, (detail), 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York

Barry Frydlender, Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles, (detail), 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Andrea Meislin Gallery, New York

Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, the Scotiabak CONTACT Photography Festival and the University of Toronto Art Centre.

Curated by Matthew Brower, David Liss and Bonnie Rubenstein

This two-venue exhibition, Public: Collective Identity | Occupied Spaces, brings together images from around the world to explore the ways we perform and articulate our identity in public, and the tensions that arise from the occupation of public space. In an age of social media, global urbanization, protest and revolution, photography plays a crucial role in mediating our understanding of socio-political issues and conflicts. From street photography to appropriated web imagery, conflict photojournalism to conceptual projects, the works in this show challenge and redefine our perception of the public sphere.

The artists showing at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art expand the boundaries of street practice and the shifting parameters of public space to make visible unseen aspects of urban existence.

Michael Wolf (b. Germany, based in Paris and Hong-Kong) explores the dense social fabric of the urban landscape and the juxtaposition of public and private space. In Tokyo Compression (2009), his closely framed portraits of Japanese commuters on the notoriously overcrowded Tokyo subway system capture the tensions of city life.

Bill Sullivan (b. United States, based in New York) looks at a related aspect of life in the city, with his series Stop Down (2004). Photographs of elevator passengers in New York City are taken as the doors open and close. Emerging from his engagement with street photography, Sullivan’s situational practice is determined by the action of the elevator rather than by his search for a decisive moment.

Jon Rafman (b. Canada, based in Montréal) examines new forms of virtually represented public spaces, specifically from Google Street View, by mining this publicly available archive for images that speak to modern social life. In The Nine Eyes of Google Street View (2009 –), the artist selects images from the eponymous website that raise issues of surveillance.

Barry Frydlender (b. Israel, based in Tel-Aviv) creates panoramic street scenes that are visual records of contemporary urban experience. Drawing on the Western pictorial tradition, his works investigate the social structures of contemporary life through their artful engagement with everyday existence.

Baudouin Mouanda (b. Democratic Republic of Congo, based in Brazzaville), a member of the photography collective, Generation Elili, looks at urban Congolese society. His series La Sapologie (2008) documents the practices of the “Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elégantes” (Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People). Delestage (2010) and Sur le trottoir du Savoir (2011), explores how the Congolese have reconfigured public space in response to poverty and a lack of reliable infrastructure.

Cheryl Dunn (b. United States, based in New York) documents youth culture by photographing events that bring together thousands of people. In Festivals are Good (1997-2008), she examines the subculture of music festivals, focusing on the audience rather than the public spectacle they attend.

Philippe Chancel (b. France, based in Paris), works at the intersection of art, journalism and documentary. His series Arirang (2006) documents the annual mass games in Pyongyang celebrating the North Korean Workers Party and the birth of Kim Il-sung.


The works at the University of Toronto Art Centre suggest that the role photography plays in engaging conflict can be as contested as the spaces it represents. As cameras have become ubiquitous and networked, photography has become an ever more important component of social change.

Noh Suntag (b. South Korea, based in Seoul) explores the political and social life of modern Korea. His series String Pulling Incident (2008 – 9), documents’ the months-long mass protests against the South Korean government brought about by the decision to allow the re-importation of US beef after the mad cow crisis.

Benjamin Lowy (b. United States, based in New York) presents two related takes on his experiences as a photojournalist working with US forces in Iraq / Perspectives (2003 – 8).Windows captures street scenes of Bagdad framed by the portholes of armored personnel carriers. The second series, Nightvision, records the actions of US troops as they use the cover of darkness to interact with the local population.

Richard Mosse (b. Ireland, based in Dublin) creates an extensive series of lush images of war-torn, eastern Congo, entitled Infra (2010 – 11). Using Kodak’s infrared Aerochrome film, which was developed in collaboration with US military to reveal camouflaged positions, the photographs are Mosse’s attempt to make visible the invisible aspects of conflict.

Ariella Azoulay (b. Israel, based in Tel-Aviv) is an academic, author, curator and activist whose ongoing research explores the relations between photography and citizenship. Her project Different Ways not to Say Deportation (2010) is based on photographs taken between 1947 and 1950, which she viewed at the International Committee of the Red Cross Archives in Geneva.

Tarek Abouamin (b. Egypt, based in Halifax) is a cinematographer, filmmaker and university lecturer. In his documentary film 18 Days (2011), he captures the pulse of the Egyptian Revolution from Pierre Sioufi’s 9th floor apartment overlooking Tahrir Square, which served a hub for revolutionaries, journalists, and news networks. His curated project, Preparing for Dawn(2011), including 480 photographs selected from 8000 images gathered at the Tahrir Square Media Centre, offers a multi-faceted, photographic engagement with the uprising that led to the overthrow of the Egyptian regime.

Sanaz Mazinani (b. Iran, based in San Francisco and Toronto) creates work that explores the political and social effects of digital culture. The large circular objects from her series, Conference of the Birds (2012), are complex patterns of media-sourced imagery documenting the Occupy Movement (Toronto, Amsterdam and Rome) and the Arab Spring (Cairo, Sidi Bouzid, and Tripol).

Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber (b. Austria, based in Vancouver and Vienna) have been exploring the politics of urban space for over 20 years. Templeton Five Affair, March 1967 (2010), part of their project The University Paradox, reactivates the 1967 student protests at Simon Fraser University. The nine photographs of Events Are Always Original (2010) contain archival images that document the aftermath of a student occupation of the campus.

Ai Weiwei (b. China, based in Beijing) is an architect and artist who focuses on political, cultural and social criticism in his work. His series Study of Perspective (1995 – 2010), documents his performative gesture of giving the finger to iconic landmarks, objects and cityscapes around the world. Blurring lines between art and advocacy, Ai’s images highlight the social and political effectiveness of photography as a tool for activist expression.