LARRY TOWELL: NO MAN'S LAND
STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY
MAY 14-JUNE 25, 2005
HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON FOUNDATION
APRIL 15-AUGUST 4, 2005
NO MAN'S LAND
LONDON: CHRIS BOOT LTD. (English ed.)
PARIS: TEXTUEL (French ed.)
144 PP./$80.00 (hb)
On May 14, halfway into "CONTACT 2005," the 9th annual Toronto Photography Festival, the Stephen Bulger Gallery opened "No Man's Land," a show by Ontario resident and Magnum photographer Larry Towell. The show comprises 21 (20" X 24") prints, three panoramic images (26" X 61") and one (35.5" X 51") print. All are black and white photographs taken with a fast film and processed in a way that gives them a grainy, gritty appearance that seems appropriate to an exhibition that deals with the second Intifada in Palestine. The principal sponsor of the project and exhibition, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, is hosting a concurrent show in Paris. Towell had won the first Henri Cartier-Bresson Prize in 1993 for his project. A book of 130 reproductions, No Man's Land, has been published in both French and English editions. The photographer is the only Canadian member of Magnum. He lives on a farm in Bothwell, Ontario a few miles from Toronto. Through him the Stephen Bulger Gallery has developed a relationship with Magnum that has led it to represent the co-operative in Canada.
The Walls of No Man's Land: Palestine opened in Paris on April 15 whereas the exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery in Toronto was scheduled halfway into Contact, the photography festival held there every May since 1997. This year's chosen theme for the festival was "Questioning Truth in Photography." Stephen Bulger has been one of the active participants and organizers of this festival, insisting on promoting fine-art photography and giving Toronto a name on the international scene. The relevance of the show to the 2005 theme becomes all the more obvious when it is noted that 90% of the images were taken from the Palestinian side. They do not necessarily represent a Palestinian point of view though as Towell, like all Magnum members, seems to be amazingly in control of his distance with the events, even in situations when this may not have been obvious.
A main difference between the Toronto and Paris shows must be stated here. Although this may look purely aesthetic, and could be dismissed as such by some, the choices made for the two shows could have other ramifications, or at least raise a few more questions. As mentioned above, the Stephen Bulger Gallery displayed huge prints, enlargements of 35mm black and white high speed negatives that look as if the printers exceeded the physical capacities of the film to render tone (a large palette of gray tones) and details. As a result the appearance of the photographs displayed is very graphic, textured (obvious coarse grain) and of a contrast above average. As such, the images may acquire the impact of posters, a degree of "social realism," where the gritty aspect of the image reflects the violence and tension of the depicted situations. They also lose a certain photographic, "fine print," quality.
At the Cartier-Bresson Foundation, which displayed twice as many photographs as the Stephen Bulger Gallery, this on two floors, the regular 35mm photographs were about 16" X 24" in size, and the panoramic ones about 16" X 45." The chosen ratio of enlargement, at the limit of a correct/traditional "photographic" rendition of details and mid-tones, resulted in images that kept the appearance of excellent black and white prints with tones that rendered the three-dimensionality of the photographed spaces. In no way did the visual pleasure derived from the excellent craft of the printers (three total, one at the Magnum lab in New York, the two others in Canada) distract from the content of the images. In fact it can be added that the aesthetic qualities of a print may often convince the beholder to spend more time in front of it and to remember it. …