Every May, the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival unleashes its city-wide lens-based art initiatives throughout Toronto. For the last 27 years, the festival has cultivated an immense community of photographic artists, practitioners, and lovers by bringing together the city’s museums, galleries, and artist-run centers for spring programming dedicated to the expansive medium. This year’s edition includes over 20 public art installations, three of which speak to the intersections of land, migration, and imagination through the poetic possibilities of photography’s materiality.

Brooklyn-based artist Genesis Báez has created location-specific work for an installation at The Bentway, a public art space under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway, in a project curated by Alex Rand. Báez began Groundcover by re-photographing images of the expressway’s construction in the 1950s and ’60s, then burying the negatives in its soil, where the film was altered — and partially processed — by mud, water, and weather. The resulting abstract images, enlarged from those negatives and exhibited at the site where they were made, visualize the intersection of the human-built environment with the infinite forces of land and water.

Genesis Báez, “The Mountains Facing the Sun Oil, Yabucoa, PR” (2012) from the series Reclamation (un registro de mi afuera), which features images buried in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, and submersed in Caribbean water for the duration of Báez’s time away in the US (image courtesy the artist)

About a 20-minute walk northwest from The Bentway is an installation, curated by Gaëlle Morel, of images from Moroccan artist Seif Kousmate’s series واحة (Waha, or Oasis in English) that takes the place of billboard advertisements. The series unpacks how the climate crisis has severely damaged the oasis ecosystem of the country’s southern regions. Kousmate traveled around the region, taking photographs and meeting with communities to talk about the area’s future. His work provides a look at the landscape’s current condition and counters the paradise-like views of the country that proliferate under the Western gaze. Similar to Báez, Kousmate employs natural elements within his experimental image-making process, using palm leaves, flowers, dried dates, and fire.

East of these two sites, the installation Writing Without Words: The Autoportraits of Hélène Amouzou, curated by Mark Sealy, places Hélène Amouzou’s spectral images at a larger-than-life scale along the sidewalk of King Street West. Using long exposures, the Togolese-Belgian artist photographs herself in domestic interiors, often with suitcases, blurring and obscuring her figure by moving in front of the camera. Through this work she shares her own story of migration and displacement; of being at the mercy of the inhumane conditions of borders, nation-states, and citizenship; and the violent disruptions that this causes physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

For more information on the 180 exhibitions at this year’s festival, visit scotiabankcontactphoto.com.

Hélène Amouzou, “Autoportrait, Molenbeek” (2009) (image courtesy the artist)