Category Archives: photography

Mirvish Books Leaves the Village

Mirvish Books

David Mirvish Books is closing its doors after more than three decades as one of Toronto’s premier spots for art, design and photography books.

The bookstore has been stitched into the fabric of the Bloor and Markham Sts. area since 1974. David Mirvish opened the store as a part of the Mirvish Gallery, which showcased the work of colour field sculptors, painters and abstract artists.  In the heart of one of Toronto’s Victorian-style neighbourhoods, the establishment became a landmark in the Mirvish Village.

Store manager Eleanor Johnston said the doors will close Feb. 28.

“We are moving all of the inventory online. We’re not going to be like Amazon, that just lists everything. We will only list things that we have. It’s just another part of the world of selling retail. This is the transition that we’re taking. We’re not doing it with an aim of saying this is a better business concept.”

Frances Wood, the co-owner of Southern Accent, a restaurant across from the bookstore, said losing the 34-year-old establishment will change the face of the Village forever.

Mirvish Books is not the first independent bookstore to close in the area recently. Ballenford Books, specializing in books on architecture, on Markham St. just two doors away from Mirvish, closed last year after 29 years.

Mirvish’s closing has left some customers asking what will happen to the 50-foot-long painting by Frank Stella that dominates the store’s interior. “We don’t have any plans to do anything with it,” said Johnston.

For customers like Tracy Dalglish, who has been coming to the store since it opened, losing the building will end the romantic experience of visiting the store.  Dalglish remembers visiting with her father as a 13-year-old in the late ’70s.

“I would come down with my dad for the Boxing Day sales,” she said about her trips from Rosedale to the store. “I found my love of books in this store with my dad. It’s sad when you see places you love disappear.”

Susan Warner Keene was a curious student in her mid 20s at the Ontario College of Art when she discovered the store in 1974. She has been coming ever since. She said it was the most beautiful physical space any bookstore in Toronto had to offer back then. She finds inspiration for her work with hand papermaking from reading a variety of books the store offers.

“I’ve found books here that have been tremendously helpful in my own work,” she said at the store yesterday. 

“It’s probably my favourite bookstore, so it will be very sad to lose it.”

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A 21st Century Gutenberg

When photography dealer Howard Greenberg celebrated his 25th anniversary in the business last year, he mounted an exhibition at his midtown Manhattan gallery. Amid 25 seductive highlights from his collection – including an abstract pear by Steichen, a pointillist streetscape by Karl Struss, two pieces of Americana by Walker Evans, and a print of Ruth Orkin’s An American Girl in Italy – he’d constructed a shrine to a book.

American Gallery

The installation made a strong case for the book’s place of honour among the dealer’s rare and expensive artifacts, with a video showing its creation, from typesetting to printing to binding, in an old-fashioned process that even Gutenberg might recognize.

The star of the 10-minute video was Michael Torosian, a Canadian little-known outside the small world of rare-book collectors. Since founding Lumiere Press in a garage at the foot of his yard in the west end of Toronto in 1986, Torosian has published 18 handmade books on photography. Printed on his vintage letter press, they are themselves works of art, limited editions in which the editorial content, design and printing is executed with an aesthete’s eye, an artisan’s hand and a perfectionist’s oversight.

Michael TorosianTorosian’s 19th book, An American Gallery, was produced by special order for the Greenberg anniversary and includes stunning high-tech reproductions of the 25 photographs from the exhibit accompanied by the dealer’s commentaries. The book took almost 12 months to produce, slowed down only slightly by the fact that the photos had to be printed separately and then placed by hand into each copy.

Lumiere editions include three volumes on Dave Heath and one each on Lewis Hine, Edward Burtynsky, Paul Strand, Gordon Parks and others. Torosian also has published three books of his own photography work.

The title page of An American Gallery went through 53 different designs before Torosian was satisfied. The typesetting ate up half a year. He took months to figure out how to insert the photographs, which are a different thickness than a normal paper page, to ensure they didn’t cause the book to spring open awkwardly.

“You have to be focused: every day, every week, every month. You can’t just sort of go through the motions, because it’s very unforgiving,” he explains. “I guess it’s like someone who makes violins or something: There might be monetary incentive to turn out 100 violins a year, but if you can only really do 18 credibly, then you’d better stick to the 18.”

“No matter how well a conventional mass-market trade book is produced, in their nature as a physical object, they all look the same: this sort of blockish object. They’re interchangeable. But when someone picks up one of my books, it has the same pedigree as other books, and yet it’s a different species. And that’s what they’re responding to. It’s familiar but it’s outside the ordinary.” A number of Lumiere Press books are in the collections of rare-book libraries.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at the State University of New York currently has a remount of the Greenberg anniversary exhibition, including the Lumiere video installation, which will stay up until June 22.

Excerpted from Simon Houpt, Globe and Mail, May 17, 2008

Lumiere Press

Dog Works

Dog WorksA border collie who builds pyramids out of raincoats at sunset on stormy wet days? A dalmatian who fills tire holes with vegetables? A staffordshire bull terrier who arranges cow bones into circles? A beagle who hangs socks on a fence? A vizsla who organizes leaves into separate color piles in the shape of a cross?What explanation could there possibly be for these strange phenomena? Delve deep into these canine mysteries with Dr. Raymond Blake, a canine cultural heritage researcher and Penelope Winters, a spiritualist and diviner.

The extraordinary photographs in Dog Works document a wide variety of strangely beautiful canine constructions, while the accompanying text examines the motivation behind them from two opposing perspectives.

Dog Works

Are these dogs creating their structures as a result of inherited, breed specific, behavioral characteristics or are they responding creatively in a more spiritual and psychic way to unseen forces we humans have yet to understand?

For their inspiration, may we suggest a visit to our sister site, Red Star Cafe, to see the environmental art of British sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy?

Dog Works - Spiral

Ashes and Snow

“In exploring the shared language and poetic sensibilities of all animals, I am working towards rediscovering the common ground that once existed when people lived in harmony with animals. The images depict a world that is without beginning or end, here or there, past or present.”
—Gregory Colbert, Creator of Ashes and Snow

Ashes and Snow

Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow is an ongoing project that weaves together photographic works, 35mm films, art installations and a novel in letters. Included in the exhibit are over 50 large-scale photographic artworks, a 60-minute film, and two 9-minute film haikus. There is also a series of fine handbound books, printed on imported papers. With profound patience and an unswerving commitment to the expressive and artistic nature of animals, he has captured extraordinary interactions between humans and animals.

His 21st-century bestiary includes more than 40 totemic species from around the world. Since he began creating his singular work of Ashes and Snow, Colbert has mounted more than 30 expeditions to locations such as India, Egypt, Burma, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Namibia, Kenya, Antarctica, the Azores, and Borneo.

Nomadic MuseumLocated in the world’s only “nomadic” museum – built temporarily and specially for Ashes and Snow out of 148 abandoned shipping containers – this installation features Colbert’s massive, sepia-toned portraits on handmade Japanese paper, some up to 10 feet in length, of humans interacting with animals like elephants, cheetahs, and manatees.

Colbert originally conceived of the idea for a sustainable travelling museum in 1999. He envisioned a sustainable structure that could easily be assembled in ports of call around the world, providing a transitory environment for Ashes and Snow on its global journey.

Nomadic MuseumThe show first opened at the Arsenale in Venice, Italy, in 2002 and is charted to travel the globe with no final destination. The Nomadic Museum, the travelling home of Ashes and Snow, debuted in New York (March to June 2005) and then travelled to Santa Monica (January to May 2006), and Tokyo (March to June 2007). The show is mounted in Mexico City in January 2008.

The title Ashes and Snow suggests beauty and renewal, while also referring to the literary component of the exhibition—a fictional account of a man who, over the course of a yearlong journey, composes 365 letters to his wife. The source of the title is revealed in the 365th letter. Colbert’s photographs and one-hour film loosely reference the traveller’s encounters and experiences described in the letters.

Ashes and Snow

These mixed media photographic works marry umber and sepia tones in a distinctive encaustic process on handmade Japanese paper. The artworks, each approximately five feet by eight feet, are mounted without explanatory text so as to encourage an open-ended interaction with the images.

Colbert wants to remove the artificial barriers between man and animals, returning to an Eden-like point in time when the world was supposedly “one”. By presenting each image as a “poetic filmstudy” he’s trying to communicate the idea that nature doesn’t have a “style” but a “voice”.

Ashes and Snow

Ashes and Snow has no final destination, and the nomadic museum will continue to travel to points around the globe, each exhibit being simply a “port of call”.

Ashes and Snow

View the books online.

The following excerpt is entitled Feather to Fire, and is narrated in three languages by Laurence Fishburne (English), Ken Watanabe (Japanese), and Enrique Rocha (Spanish).

Consolation: One Book by Michael Redhill

Consolation“There is a vast part of this city with mouths buried in it… Mouths capable of speaking to us. But we stop them up with concrete and build over them and whatever it is they wanted to say gets whispered down empty alleys and turns into wind…”

These are among the last words of Professor David Hollis before he throws himself off a ferry into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario. A renowned professor of forensic geology, David leaves in his wake both a historical mystery and an academic scandal. He postulated that on the site where a sports arena is about to be built lie the ruins of a Victorian boat containing an extraordinary treasure: a strongbox full of hundreds of never-seen photographs of early Toronto, a priceless record of a lost city. His colleagues, however, are convinced that he faked his research materials.

Determined to vindicate him, his widow, Marianne, sets up camp in a hotel overlooking the construction site, watching and waiting for the boat to be unearthed. The only person to share her vigil is John Lewis, fiancé to her daughter, Bridget. An orphan who had come to love David as his own father, John finds himself caught in a struggle between mother and daughter all the while keeping a dark secret from both women.

Interwoven into the contemporary story is another narrative set in 1850s: the tale of Jem Hallam, a young apothecary struggling to make a living in the harsh new city so he can bring his wife and daughters from England. Crushed by ruthless competitors, he develops an unlikely friendship with two other down-on-their-luck Torontonians: Samuel Ennis, a brilliant but dissolute Irishman, and Claudia Rowe, a destitute widow. Together they establish a photography business and set out to create images of a fledgling city where wooden sidewalks are put together with penny nails, where Indians spear salmon at the river mouth and the occasional bear ambles down King Street, where department stores display international wares and fine mansions sit cheek-by-jowl with shantytowns.

King Street 1856Consolation, by Torontonian Michael Redhill, is the winner of the 2007 Toronto Book Award, and nominee for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. It has been selected as the One Book for the community to read together during the month of February, as part of the inaugural Keep Toronto Reading program of the Toronto Public Library.

Consolation moves back and forth between David Hollis’s legacy and Jem Hallam’s struggle to survive, ultimately revealing a mysterious connection between the two narratives. Exquisitely crafted and masterfully written, Michael Redhill’s second novel reveals how history is often transformed into a species of fantasy, and how time alters the contours of even the things we hold most certain. As complex and layered as the city whose story it tells, Consolation evokes the mysteries of love and memory, and what suffering the absence of the beloved truly means.

The book tells about a city only too keen to bury all existing remnants of its past. “It’s just one more link to the place that we come from that was carelessly removed, and it’s unfortunate that no attempt at preservation was ever made.”

Redhill began writing Consolation in the late 1990s, motivated equally by the desire to alert his fellow citizens to the historical toll taken by Toronto’s “developmental frenzy” as he was to write a book rooted in his city’s soil and tell a story that connected two eras in Toronto’s relatively brief but criminally neglected civic history.

Of the reason for that neglect, an apparent civic amnesia blighting Toronto more dramatically than just about any other centre of its size and significance, Redhill muses, “In part because it’s a young city. We live in a place that’s just over 200 years old now and although it’s as old as it’s ever been to us who live there, in the context of world cities it’s not a very old city at all.

Redhill recalls being overwhelmed by a series of photographs he discovered in book by William Dendy called Lost Toronto. A 360-degree panorama consisting of thirteen shots of the city taken in 1856 from a hotel at the corner of Simcoe and York Streets, the pictures sparked in the author a kind of hypothetical reverie of the city that once was. In fictional form, the photos would also come to play a key role in Consolation.

Toronto Star Books

Toronto Public Library: One Book

The Toronto Panorama

Michael Redhill’s Blog

Michael Redhill: Poetry and Publications

Reading Cities

Toronto Book Awards

There Is No City That Does Not Dream

There Is No City.

Canadian literature has largely centred on rural and wild spaces. Cities are often viewed as a blight on the landscape, encroaching on its imagined pristineness.

Toronto writer, Anne Michaels has documented the intersection of Canada’s largest city, and time, memory and imagination in her poem, “There is no city that does not dream.” This poem is the centerpiece of her third book of poetry, Skin Divers.

I first came across this poem one day on the subway, possibly as we were crossing Shaw Street. It was hidden among the subway car’s advertising, and it was part of the “Poetry on the Way” series which made my commute bearable. I had no notepad with me at the time, and I was afraid that I might not come across it again, so I memorized it and wrote it down as soon as I got home.

In the poem, the city unfolds, not in its brick and mortar sprawl this time, but as real and imagined remembrances over millions of years.

In a city so familiar that we hardly notice it, we read rumours of lost lakes such as glacial Lake Iroquois whose shores define the Niagara Escarpment; ravines which conceal lost rivers, long paved over, such as Taddle Creek, which still runs under Philosopher’s Walk; and dinosaur bones unearthed with the building of the subway – all part of our city’s geologic garden.

Our present day experience of the spring air and the ferry ride in the rain intertwines with this unread page of love charting where we came from, drifting away from us on the wind.

The line, “The lost lake/crumbling in the hands of brickmakers/the floor of the ravine where light lies broken/with the memory of rivers” transports me into a past where I no longer hear the quotidian hum of the city, but walk through the wild and secret marshes from another time.

Passage des Panoramas

Alice LiddellShe adored the Passage des Panoramas.

It was a passion surviving from her youth, a passion for the gaudiness of fancy goods, fake jewels, gilt zinc and cardboard with the appearance of leather. When she passed that way she could not tear herself from the window-displays.

She felt the same now as during the period when she was a down-at-heel street urchin and used to forget herself in front of the confectionery in a chocolate-maker’s, while listening to a barrel-organ playing in a neighboring shop.

Passage des Panoramas

She was taken especially by the pressing attraction of cheap knick-knacks, requisites in walnut-shells, necessaries in small containers, rag-picker’s baskets for tooth-picks, Vendome columns and obelisks containing thermometers.

Emile Zola,
Nana: A Realistic Novel, 1880

Image: Charles Dodgson,
Alice Liddell as The Beggar Maid,
Late 1850s