By Robert K. Stephen
(TORONTO, ON) – It’s been viciously cold in Toronto for the past few weeks. I love my walking to and fro but in this filthy, nasty and vicious weather only so many walks in the PATH underground system can be tolerated. I’ve visited LCBO’s, The Gap and Banana Republic too many times!
So I decide for some “Lunchtime Culture” and with a buddy sneak in through the Cambridge Suites Hotel Path Entrance on Victoria and Richmond and make it all the way up to Dundas through the Eaton Centre and the ravaged Sears where we exit and walk two blocks up to Gould Street and turn a right in the nasty bone chilling breeze to end up at our destination the Ryerson Image Centre on 33 Gould Street. It’s a photography exhibit and it’s free! Can the imagery take our mind off this damn polar vortex?
The Ryerson Image Centre is ultra modern and architecturally urban cool gallery dedicated to imagery. We visit the main exhibit entitled “Disappearance of Darkness” comprised of photographs of Robert Burley that witness the demise of the great film producing companies such as Kodak, Agfa and Polaroid. Vacant and abandoned factories and some in the process of implosion create a desolate, stark and colourful marker of a time gone by where film was an industry employing countless thousands.
Now it is more or less a pile of rubble caught before complete destruction by Burley.
Burley’s colour photographs depict a bygone era and a time of prosperity not only for the industry but for the thousands that worked in it. One photo shows a poster board of employees at Kodak’s plant in Toronto. There is no more Kodak factory and all the jobs with it vanished. Another photo depicts a storage area with names of employees for a shelf to sort their gear. Haunting. Beautiful photography but what about the sensual delight of the imagery?
Burley’s photos go beyond the historical decimation of the film industry and the success and impact of the exhibit cause one to ask what is the next industry to disappear. The clothing business has long ago disappeared to various Third World countries and financial services and even legal jobs are leaving in great numbers to India and China.
Burley’s exhibit leaves an unpleasant taste if not fear about what is yet to come for who knows what sector of the economy. Economies change and can be transformed quickly. You should be asking yourself after this exhibit if you are the next displaced and unemployed worker. Who is the next victim and who is the new beneficiary?
This evolution has been on-going since the Industrial Revolution. In this case digitalization in photography is the winner and film is the loser. The message I take away from Burley is enjoy life, your culture, your employment. It is all very tenuous. There are few visible people in the photographs rather meagre evidence of their existence.
Mr Burley is an associate professor at the School of Image Arts, Ryerson University and his exhibition was previously on view at the National Gallery of Canada (18 October 2013 – 5 January 14). His exhibit at Ryerson runs from 22 January – 13 April 2014.
The desolation continues at the Ryerson Image Centre with Phil Bergerson’s “Emblems and Remnants of the American Dream” running contemporaneously with the Burley exhibition. Bergerson photographs start with remnants of a mythical 1950’s American past and quickly progress to urban desolation, religious fanaticism and love for weaponry in the United States.
It may not be as stark as Burley’s exhibit but it causes one to think about the demise of a culture as opposed to a film producing segment of an economy. It may be a reason to return and re-examine hence it may in a subtle way be far more complicated (and slightly less beautifully shot) than the Burley exhibit. Synchronicity of themes!