Scotiabank’s Contact Photography Festival is one of the biggest photography festivals in the world. This year, in the wake of COVID-19, it’s going to be run online. If you’re looking for inspiration, this is where to go.
The Story Until Now
Contact’s mission statement is certainly aspirational:
[Contact is] dedicated to celebrating and fostering the art and profession of photography with an annual Festival in May throughout Toronto.
The festival includes exhibitions, artist talks, panel discussions, workshops, and photo-book initiatives. Last year, Contact organized over 250 exhibitions and drew 3.75 million visits. The festival handed out thousands of dollars in awards and scholarships and almost $200,000 in artist fees and commissions (all values in CAD).
In terms of the local and national economy, Contact estimates that attendees spent about $21 million and that the total media value was just under $50 million. In a time of shrinking gallery attendance, these numbers are a smash hit.
The Festival in 2020
Contact normally takes place in May. Unfortunately, Toronto is, like most of North America, pretty much on lockdown this year.
Contact has taken a two-pronged approach. Sadly, but necessarily, the physical gallery showings are postponed for the time being. The intent is to open these shows on a case-by-case basis when possible. In the meantime, Contact has launched a new online festival showcasing over 150 artist profiles and exhibitions.
Their online presence includes collaborations with many of their partners, including online galleries, streaming talks, and reading lists.
I talked with Contact’s public relations people and I’ve been told that all artist registration fees have been returned and the online platform is being provided free of charge. This is an incredible amount of assistance being given to the smaller artists that look to Contact to help jump-start their careers by getting their work in front of potentially millions of art lovers.
Deciding to move the exhibitions online sometime in early March, Contact has done a phenomenal job championing the art of photography despite the current pandemic.
If you’re a photographer, I’d highly suggest that you support the festival by checking out their online presence.
Given the number of artists, I encourage you to share your favorites from Contact in the comments below.
In the meantime, among the hundreds of pathways you could take through Contact's showings, I suggest you start by checking out:
Kim Hoeckele’s spectacular, new-age, multi-media presentation on the representation of women in sport, advertising, education, and popular culture. Honestly, this is one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen. Give it a moment or two, and I’d wager you’ll be lost for the entire 8 minute run.
Alberto Giuliani’s heartbreaking portraits of Italian frontline healthcare workers.
And, Tereza Zelenkova’s podcast conversation with Nearest Truth about the work commissioned for Contact, The Double Room.
Curated Reading Lists
Contact has also had some of its curators put together reading lists to help pass the time while we’re all in lockdown or isolation. For those of you fond of saying that fine-art world is silly or too dense for its own good, these reading lists might shed new light on some of the theories behind modern art and photography. Check out Sara Knelman’s list that touches on decolonization, and the relationship between photography and sculpture. Knelman is a curator, educator, writer and Director, Special Projects at Corkin Gallery. If you’d like something a little more esoteric, look into Zoë Chan’s reading list that is designed to help readers learn to tell the story of a life and to help determine what could be shared and what is kept private. Among others, she points us to Zora Neale Hurston and Edmund White. Chan is the assistant curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Contact is also working with Nikon to share a series of online lectures, Taku Kumabe: Shifting Perspectives for a New Look (May 6);
Viktoria Haack: Navigating the World of Social Media (May 13); Michelle Valberg: For the Love of Wildlife (May 21); and Kristian Bogner: Intention, Vision, Creation (May 27). These lectures will be streamed on Contact’s Facebook page live.
Having had the time to take a look, what stands out to you? Is this a viable approach to photography festivals at this time?
All images courtesy of captioned artists and Contact Photography Festival. Lead image, video still from Fatma Bucak's Scouring the press. Other images embedded from artists' Instagram feeds.