The Canadian Art Database

Michel Lambeth

Michael Torosian
La Petite Galerie, NFB Photo Gallery, Ottawa

Proof Only, Vol. 1 #4, February 1974.
[ 584 words ]

In Ottawa, within the context of the visual arts, there are two important galleries where photography can be seen: the National Film Board's Photo Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. If you want to see 'international', that is, American photography and its derivatives, then the National Gallery's fledgling department — which ought to have its wings cut — is the place to go. If you want to see, generally, contemporary Canadian photography — though the range is far too wide — then it's the NFB.

Over many years Lorraine Monk, executive producer of the NFB's Still Photography Division, has tried to formulate, often successfully, a programme of exhibition and publication which at one and the same time services the taste of the general public who pays for it while still giving adequate attention and exposure to established and emerging special talent.

Not your ordination docile civil servant, Lorraine Monk, volatile, has polarized the NFB's area of interest between the visual expression policy laid down in the early 40s by the late John Grierson — 'art is a hammer, not a mirror' — and the best of clichés usually found in camera club salons. Les Ouvriers, a one-person show by Pierre Gaudard, published in the NFB Image series, was a strong example of a photographic social statement about the Québécois worker; A Time To Dream, rather syrupy in the technology and vision of the camera club, became a best-selling mini-coffee-table book.

Recently, at the NFB Photo Gallery, Aaron Romanovsky has designed La Petite Galerie, mainly for the exhibition of monographic portfolios by established and emerging photographers. The work of Michael Torosian is currently on display.

At 21, Michael Torosian seems in his work to have lived twice as long. The twenty-two photographic prints in his monograph are titled, generically, 'A Manual Alphabet', and demonstrate a maturity in photographic vision and tenacity which is not usually found in a man of his age. A recent graduate of the Photographic Arts Centre of Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, Torosian exposed last year his earlier tentative work, which led to the present exhibition, in a contest called 'Students Behind The Camera' sponsored by the Conestoga Community College of the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

In his portraiture of hands, which do not in any way belong to the 'gnarled hands' school, Torosian has found a way for himself which lies between the 'classicism' of an Edward Weston or Paul Strand (both of whom he admires) and the interpretive, documentary work of W. Eugene Smith (whom he also admires). These three photographers, whose energies he emulates but doesn't imitate, were all loners, going their own way.

Rather than isolating 'faces in a crowd', Torosian has found hands to be revelatory of character and just as important for a point of departure in visual expression. One small grouping of prints could even be called 'nationalistic': the prints show the hands of small boys clutching battered hockey sticks in a street game.

Torosian's images are small in format, about 5 x 7 inches; scale is more important than size — you have to get close to read them properly; and optical and chemical sharpness are just as important in his technique as visual sharpness. But Torosian has already ventured on a new project which will produce even smaller images. Using the polaroid camera, he intends to push this now-common medium of the small print to its artistic extremes.

Proof Only, Vol. 1 #4, February 1974.

Text: © Michel Lambeth. All rights reserved.

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