Larry Towell at the new Stephen Bulger Gallery

More is More at the new Stephen Bulger Gallery

A crowd of friends, family, artists, curators, and photography enthusiasts filed into the opening of Stephen Bulger’s new gallery at 1356 Dundas West on September 9th. Bulger, himself, has been a torch bearer for photography in Toronto and abroad for the past 25 years, co-founding CONTACT, which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2016, and and opening the first version of his gallery some 23 years earlier in a Toronto that would have been unrecognizable from today’s condo-filled, cosmopolitan counterpart.

Installation view of Larry Towell, Union Station, Stephen Bulger Gallery, September 2017. Photo: Robyn Zolnai and Sarah Burtscher. Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery

So as I made my way past the raucous mingling in the gallery’s foyer cum library, I descended upon Larry Towell’s exhibition Union Station, a project that began for the artist in 2013. He relays his fortuitous meeting with an investor in the goliath construction project, asking quite indifferently “who’s documenting this incredible thing?”. Towell recounts that the reply “well nobody is, do you wanna do it?” lead to him taking on the project, very much on his own terms, specifying that “I can go on a whim when I want to and shoot it editorially”, emphasizing that this was “not a corporate job.” And so began Towell’s documentation of Canada’s busiest transportation hub, returning every two or three months to record the phases of construction and reconstruction of, as the photographer asserts, an “incredibly important historical building for the city of Toronto and country of Canada.”

Larry Towell, Union Station, Toronto, Canada, [Commuters and construction workers], 2013 © Larry Towell Magnum Photos

Entering into the exhibition space, which has been clearly divided from the more practical areas of the gallery with a partitioned wall, provides a liminal reverie to the exhibition more in line with a public museum than commercial gallery, the phone and assistant are not to be heard or seen. Littering the walls of the first room, Towell’s photographs, both black-and- white and colour, demonstrate his ability to seamlessly meld photojournalism with art. The most striking example, is his coloured photograph of two construction workers standing in the wreckage of an underground site somewhere within the labyrinthine expanse of Union station. The layered depths of machinery, refuse, cement columns and fluorescent lights in the image draw both eye and imagination into the reality and complexity of Towell’s practice and the physical construction process itself.

Larry Towell, Union Station, Toronto, Canada, [Underground construction site (Dig Down) bracing earth]2013 © Larry Towell Magnum Photos

Meandering further, the second, much more intimate room, opens with a decidedly different perspective; Towell’s years of experience as a photojournalist are palpable in his images of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution. According to Towell, he arrived in Kiev “just days before President Yanukovych fled, the photos were taken at a very tense period, the next day 30 protesters were shot.” Among his images, a young girl holds her hand against the impenetrable metal shields of the armed forces, she along with the invisible lens of the photographer have personified courage. When asked why these two projects were put together for this exhibition, Towell responded, “in terms of the Ukraine, it is just a few images to remind people that this is also what I do, a working photojournalist at home and internationally.” The choice of Union station was also deliberate, honouring the rebuilding and opening of Stephen Bulger’s new gallery and the owner himself, whom Towell referred to as his “dealer and a very dear friend.”

Larry Towell, Kiev, Ukraine, February 2014 © Larry Towell Magnum Photos

The previous Queen street location of the Stephen Bulger Gallery, was a beacon for photographers, aficionados and everything in between for over two decades. So when pressed on the reason for the move, Bulger fittingly responded: “in most instances I live by the Miesian axiom ‘Less is More’; for my new gallery I thought “More is More”. For the past few years, I have been looking to replicate my gallery to a larger location in order to better serve our clients. We work with a large number of talented artists, and a diverse group of clients, so as our program expanded, we needed to expand the gallery accordingly. This location gives us the flexibility to show large and intimate exhibitions, as well as better integrate moving image works. We will also be able to better house our growing inventory of photographs and books. Currently, people seem to have less time for visiting commercial art galleries, so our design of this space is intended to offer a more fulsome experience for people who have been able to devote some time for a gallery visit.”

Installation view of Larry Towell, Union Station, Stephen Bulger Gallery, September 2017. Photo: Robyn Zolnai and Sarah Burtscher. Courtesy of Stephen Bulger Gallery

It would seem that Miesian axiom has proved wrong, as the opening proved more is most certainly more at the Stephen Bulger Gallery.

Meghan O’Callaghan

*Exhibition information: September 9 – October 14, 2017, Stephen Bulger Gallery, 1356 Dundas Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tues–Sat 11 am – 6 pm.

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