Petra Collins’s rise to fame has been followed by many admiring Torontonians. Therefore, it was not surprising that the Artist’s Talk accompanying her show Pacifier, on now as part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival, was completely full. However, even in a crowded gallery amongst strangers, the intimacy of Collins’s personal photographs, produced from her life both in Toronto and in Budapest, was still extremely present.
In a unique way, this exhibition showcases the artist’s creative process, as well as the individuals who the artist focuses her photographic gaze upon. She describes the result by what it is not: “They seemed very posed and they seem very constructed, but that wasn’t [the case] at all…” During her talk, Collins discussed the connection between herself and her cousin depicted in “Little Prince” (2016). She describes the product, “It was his first time in front of my lens, and my first time being behind the lens shooting him.” The calm young man in his elaborate jacket seems comfortable in her gaze. His simple ambient manner communicates the way the presence of family can make us feel, unconditionally at ease.
In many photographs, physical closeness also signifies the intimate moments of familial love. The embrace between her mother and sister in “Anna and Anya” (2016) is akin to the soft touching of heads in “Anna and Kathleen (Rainbow)” (2016), and the photograph of her father’s hand resting in on her leg in “Daddy and Me” (2016).
Collins’s most famous muse, her sister Anna, is subject of many of the photos, reflecting their relationship both as sisters and as friends. Collins discussed how she experienced much of her life not only with, but also through her sister. The closeness of the two sisters is evident through Collins framing of Anna in various settings.
Other photographs in the show continue to demonstrate the capturing of moments, such as her grandmother’s wave off of the balcony in Budapest, in “Vaci Utca (Nagymama Wave)” (2016), and the capture of her companions playing the trust fall game in “Trust Fall” (2016). The result of this playful act is a powerful black and white photograph taken with divine timing.
This show also coincides with Collins’s first public art piece on King Street West, Toronto, “Jackie and Anna (rainbow tear)”. It is part of the 24 Hour Psycho Series that Collins describes as “cathartic images.” Collins captures the sad experience of her subject and, therefore, subjecting the viewer to the emotions which surround mental illness, anxiety and depression as well. Sadness is an emotion Collins describes as being familiar with throughout her youth, and shares this vulnerability with us through this series.
Petra Collins says that she has a nostalgia for a past that is not her own. In Pacifier, photographs of people, places and overall reminders of home warmly invite the viewer into the intimate moments of Collins’s life in similar nostalgic manner.
*Exhibition information: April 29 – June 24, 2017, CONTACT Gallery, 80 Spadina Ave, Ste 205, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Fri, 11 am – 6 pm; Sat, 12 – 5 pm.
Featured image: Petra Collins, Anna and Kathleen (Rainbow), 2016, detail. Courtesy of the artist