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Visual Learning: the 2010 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival

Toronto’s annual festival of photography asks how the medium’s vast dissemination has transformed the way we understand and interact with the world around us.

On display as part of MOCCA's primary exhibition is "Green Kitchen" and other works from the Cache-Misère series by John Armstrong and Paul Collins. The artists add painted images to photos, altering their narratives.

One of the abiding ways by which change is affected in a given art form is through the introduction and subsequent application of new or improved technology. The invention of the printing press ushered in a new epoch for literature and the written word, colour film transformed the way movies were produced and consumed—the present adoption of 3D techniques could herald a similar evolution—and the amplified electric guitar forever changed popular music. The historical register of these changes is long, and it continues to grow longer.

Of late, the impact of technology has arguably been felt most of all by the photographic arts, and for more than a decade the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival has chronicled the evolution of picture taking with a month-long program of curated exhibitions across the city. This year’s massive event looks at how digital-age advancements—instant-gratification social networking websites, the incorporation of high-quality cameras in portable and relatively affordable devices, the accessibility of easy-to-use image-processing software, and much more—have led to photography’s exponential growth and ponders the effect of the medium’s pervasive influence, as predicted by Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan.

"Washed LCD 4" is part of Penelope Umbrico's Broken Sets/eBay series at P|M Gallery, which offers up new art from the failure of old technology.

Is an image-saturated existence somehow an artificial one, lived vicariously through visuals created for us by another—no matter if that other is a seemingly objective photojournalist or an advertiser hoping to sell a product? Or, conversely, is photography’s ability to deliver a message diluted by the medium’s pervasiveness? Have we become desensitized to even the most provocative images? These are the questions put to the 1.5 million visitors expected to view Contact’s more than 225 featured and open exhibitions. From the festival’s primary exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and University of Toronto Art Centre to a public installation at the Toronto Pearson International Airport, buzzed-about shows at established commercial galleries to displays at neighbourhood cafés—this month, photographs truly are everywhere in Toronto.

BONUS! Check in with Where.ca/travel daily for the duration of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival for sneak peeks at some of its more than 225 exhibitions.

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