A First Walk Down-town to Check out Contemporary Photography

When I left Toronto this morning at 10 am it was raining cats and dogs. But fortunately rush hour was finished and traffic was flowing easily. About an hour east of Toronto the rain stopped and the sun started peeking through and the drive through the hilly areas around Kingston turned into a rather enjoyable experience. Spring was in full force – lilacs were blooming by the side of the highway.

Walking towards the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography

Quite relaxed I rolled into Ottawa at 2:30 pm and navigated my way into Ottawa’s east side, the Sandy Hill neighbourhood, an upscale area of stately Victorian mansions and well-maintained gardens. I easily found my accommodation: the McGee’s Inn, a 14-room historic bed and breakfast at 185 Daly Street, just a few streets north of the University of Ottawa.

Judy, one of the owners, took me to my room: the Egyptian Room, a beautifully decorated room with a Queen bed, double Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, equipped with a private bathroom with double shower. I unloaded my luggage and packed my little backpack for my busy schedule this afternoon. I asked Judy what the best way was to get to the Chateau Laurier, and she recommended walking since it’s only 15 minutes away. My destination was the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, an institution committed to showcasing the work of Canada’s most dynamic photographers. The Museum itself was created in 1985 and is affiliated with the National Gallery of Canada. It originally evolved out of the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board which has almost 50 years of history.

As an individual with a keen interest in the visual arts, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography is one of my favourite spots and it seems I make my way there every time I come to Ottawa. I had already visited the Museum earlier this year during my coverage of Winterlude to see Sunil Gupta’s exhibitions “Social Security” and “Homeland”.

This time around the Museum featured two new exhibitions: “The Street” is a collection of images from six different photographers who use their own approach to interpreting people and events in public spaces. Since the beginning of photography, the street has had special significance as a public place where individual identities are played out. The exhibition curator Pierre Dessureault explains that “the street as public space has been a favourite subject for photography, and the omnipresent mass media and the images they relay to us force us to rethink the boundaries between the private sphere and the public domain.”

Robert Frank’s photographs were taken in Paris in 1958 and New York in 1959 and they portray the street as a theatre in which alienation and estrangement dominate the social interplay. Tom Gibon’s set of Quartets assembles images taken since the early 1970s to create a poetic vision of urban life through juxtapositions based on visual relationships. Robert Walker’s snapshots of humans and their environment turn into a pattern of saturated colours in which any notion of individualism melts away. Michael Schreier’s close-up portraits of strangers who he met at random challenge the convention of distance that normally governs social interactions in public spaces. The images of Dave Heath portray faces, seeking to uncover attitudes and gestures that reveal signs of an inner life while Justin Wonnacott actually emphasizes the involvement of the photographer who intervenes as he orchestrates a transaction between himself, the photographer, and the subjects.

The second exhibit is entitled “The Painted Photograph” and presents the works of three Canadian photographers, David Bierk, Sarah Nind and Jaclyn Shoub, whose technique combines photography and painting. Using different media, the three artists touch on subjects such as identity and community, nature and culture as well as tradition and technology. Andrea Kunard, the exhibition curator, explains that “the combination of painting and photography challenges common expectations that photography is objective and truthful, while painting is subjective and creative”. To me these painted photographs had an almost surrealistic element. Both exhibitions are currently running between May 5 and November 19, 2006.

Spring in Ottwa – a special time

With my quest for artistic inspiration successfully fulfilled I headed off to on my own photographic journey through the areas surrounding the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. The Fairmont Chateau Laurier is always a prime object for photography and I had a chance to explore the public spaces adjoining Elgin Street including the War Memorial. The sun was peeking through every once in a while and Ottawa presented itself at its best, adorned by thousands of tulips.

The Canadian Museum of Photography was my first stop in a packed itinerary that would continue with the Canadian Museum of Civilization and its special “Petra – City of Stone” exhibit. My plan was finish today’s explorations with an IMAX presentation about Ancient Greece. No doubt my scheduled was packed…

Ottawa – truly a city for culture lovers…..

What a beautiful view….

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