Art, Arts & Entertainment

The McGill University Photography Students’ Society’s Retrospective in retrospect

The McGill University Photography Students’ Society (MUPSS) celebrated their first annual exhibit last Wednesday entitled Retrospective. Featuring the work of McGill students in both film and digital prints, Retrospective was well-attended and met with high praise from both the McGill community and the general public.

The exhibit itself was low-key—the majority of photos did not exceed 8” by 10” dimensions. Held at Shape Gallery on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, visitors removed their coats and shoes after escaping the snowy street outside. The small size of the prints, paired with chipped floors and tattered walls, created a cozy and welcoming atmosphere. Soft melodies from the Montreal band Duo Nouveau played in the background, and the entire collection was held in a single room.

Focusing on the simplicities of life, the subjects of the photos were mostly everyday objects, ordinary people, and nature. Retrospective was the perfect name for the exhibit, and it set the mood for the entire collection. Perhaps the best representation of this would be Roald Teffries’ twin pieces, “Mirror” and “Miroir,” depicting two convex mirrors from different perspectives. At first glance, they appear to be plain and could easily be passed over without further inspection; however, Retrospective is about pausing to reflect on the little things in life and considering how we perceive things—even two plain mirrors.

Joseph Dahdah’s “Untitled” focuses on an elderly man on the metro, squatting and looking at his phone. In the foreground is the fuzzy outline of another person, hands clasped around a duffel bag. Dahdah’s second print, also “Untitled,” is in black and white, of a man in sneakers and dark jeans reading a newspaper while crouching on a box. To the side are stacks of more newspapers, presumably from where the subject acquired the one in his hands. Dahdah’s work encapsulates the idea of finding wonder in everyday moments, and in the scenes we pass by every day and would appreciate, if only we had stopped to look in the first place.

Retrospective, at times, felt like a jump to the past. “Armored” by Scott Cope depicts a march of uniformed police, but a shutter malfunction caused the top half of the photo to be blurred black. The dystopian scene is suddenly transformed by the blur, mimicking the haze of tear gas that protesters may face. Jules Tomi’s “Noam Chomsky was traumatized by the Soviet Union” shows a man looking on into the crowd while holding up part of a large sign on a stick. The picture feels dated, leaving the viewer questioning when the photo was taken. “Armored” and “Chomsky” work well together, capturing a protest from two opposing perspectives.  Another piece, “A Father’s Work” by Sally Han, simply portrays hands pouring sauce into a jug, but the achromatic colouring gives the impression that the photo was taken decades ago. Perhaps the “retro” portion of Retrospective is ambiguity in time.

The modesty and humility of the collection convey a sense of honesty that connects with the viewer through relatable depictions of the simplest of acts: Pouring something into a jar, or looking at one’s cellphone on the metro. The way Retrospective was structured conveys a sense of familiarity even with the pictures of “grander” subjects, like protestors or mountain climbers. This was aided by the soft lines and colouring that together achieve an intimate effect. Retrospective tells viewers to stop, reflect and focus on the small details of life that give unexpected joy. Retrospective was enjoyable, but not incredibly memorable. The humble gallery and small prints could have used larger, attention-grabbing ones as an anchor, for larger impact. But for MUPSS’ first exhibit ever, it was a job well done.

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