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"Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness" on view at the National Gallery of Canada
Robert Burley, Coating Facility, Building 13, Kodak Canada,, Toronto, Canada, 2006© Robert Burley. Courtesy of the Ryerson Image Centre.
OTTAWA.- A Canadian photographer for 30 years, Robert Burley has been documenting the demise of film-manufacturing facilities and industrial darkrooms in North America and Europe since 2005. From October 18, 2013 to January 5, 2014, the National Gallery of Canada presents Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness, an exhibition that speaks to “the dizzying moment in photography’s history in which technological changes redefined the medium forever” (Burley).

Produced by the Ryerson Image Centre, Robert Burley: The Disappearance of Darkness addresses the abrupt breakdown of a century-old industry. Burley’s colour prints, reunited by curator Gaëlle Morel, visually record the major economic impact caused by the shift away from analog photography to digital technology. Burley has been both an observer and a participant in this radical transition.

The exhibition showcases around thirty large-format prints of deserted industrial spaces, including the Kodak Canada plant in Toronto and other factories that closed over time, such as Kodak France, Agfa-Gevaert, Ilford, and Polaroid. The large colour photographs are accompanied by Polaroid prints of the same deserted spaces, offering a striking contrast between two scales of representation. The faded colours and delicate composition of the Polaroid prints heighten the feeling of melancholic nostalgia conveyed by this project.

As well, the artist embraces the infinite possibilities of digital technology, re-appropriating videos and photographs found on YouTube and Facebook to strike a subtle balance between commemorating the demise of now-obsolete materials — film-based photography — and celebrating cutting-edge visual technology.

Burley’s photographs speak to the artist’s interest in the compact nature of the buildings, whose unique architecture allowed large quantities of photographic products to be fabricated in darkness. The exterior views reveal monolithic windowless structures devoid of people and movement.

Dr. Gaëlle Morel is Exhibitions Curator at the Ryerson Image Centre (Toronto). She received her PhD in the History of Contemporary Art from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her research deals with the artistic and cultural recognition of photography from the 1970s, and photographic modernism in the 1930s.

In 2009, Dr. Morel served as the guest curator of the Mois de la Photo in Montreal on the theme of The Spaces of the Image. She has written essays that have appeared in a number of magazines and books. In 2012, Dr. Morel curated the Berenice Abbott exhibition at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, as well as edited the accompanying publication. She has also taught the history of contemporary art and the history of photography at the university level in both France and Canada.

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