This exhibition was on display at the Le Centre culturel francophone de Vancouver as part of the Capture Photography Festival this month.
The exhibition was hung on the library walls and comprised the work of two artists who were illustrating the changes of Vancouver streets and the horrific changes in the streets of Syria. Denis Bouvier’s body of work was entitled Vancouver Street Photography (2010-2017) Une Ville en Métamorphose. The work was chosen from Bouvier’s published photos in The Source newspaper and are documentary in nature. The events documented are various cultural ceremonies, local activism, festivals and other events taking place in public spaces. The captions of the photos were derived from the newspaper’s Street Photography column and were written by Don Richardson. I was not aware of this newspaper and have just spent some time online perusing the Street Photography section. It is a very interesting section, each photograph is back with a solid piece of historical data and other interesting facts and stories.
But it was Pierre Grenier’s The Forgotten Children of Syria/Les Enfants Oubliés that really grabbed my attention which was displayed after Bouvier’s images. Grenier spent three week as a tourist in Syria in 2009 before the civil war, taking photos with a cheap digital camera of historical buildings, children, cities and markets. When the conflict broke out he realised that his photographs represented a rather unique view of Syria. In the exhibition he shows eleven of his own photos of pre-war Syrian children and juxtaposes them with nine press collages of children caught up in the war.
I chose or “freed” nine press photos from the web but not for their terrifying or horrifying content. Side by side with my own pictures I believe that together they have the potential to convey a sense of shared humanity beyond their subject matter.
The picture panels are brimming with ambiguity and intensity. At first one concentrates on the children playing in the plaza – carefree and happy as children should be. Then as the eye roves over the other photos one is aware that something is definitely off. Images of children fleeing from fire and carnage or standing tall amidst bombed out buildings are collaged over rubble walls. The shock and awe sets in.
Grenier created a few larger pieces like the one above which are a “then and now” collaged juxtaposition which is rather surreal in that the two sections look as if they really could “fit” together. He illustrates the journey from peace to war and beauty to destruction. I found it an extremely moving body of work, haunting and poetic.
It might have been an injustice to hang these two photographers’ work together on the same wall. Even though both are documenting changes in a city, the cities are vastly different. The natural flow of the exhibition starts with Bouvier’s work (which was quite spread out) and then progresses towards the end of the wall where one has to negotiate the book stacks to where Grenier’s work hangs (the wall space allocated to Grenier’s work was small in comparison). By the time one has viewed Grenier’s work, and as a result of the intensity of it, Bouvier’s photos simply fade away in memory.