Arts·Photos

An artist left disposable cameras all over Toronto, and this is the result

Selfies are big. Same goes for doggos. But on the whole, this project captures beauty and joy on city streets.

Selfies are big. Same goes for doggos. But on the whole, this project captures joy on city streets

Look familiar? (Instagram/@takeapicture2018)

Have you seen this camera?

Because if you have, you might be part of an art installation made by a team of hundreds.

Max Hart Barnwell is a Montreal-based photographer, and since 2016, he's been leading a project that he calls Take a Picture.

"I'm always taking pictures of what's happening around me," says Barnwell. But to give himself a break from his street-photography habit, he didn't put the camera down — he just passed it off to a few hundred strangers.

Barnwell rounded up a bunch of those disposable film cameras your cousin probably had at their wedding in 2001 and started leaving them around the city.  

"I wanted to see what would happen if I left the camera in the hands of an unknown public," he says, "and to my great surprise, it was really positive."

What they decide to capture is really beautiful.- Max Hart Barnwell, photographer

Plenty of similar social experiments have come before. There's Katie O'Byrne's New York Shots, where she dropped cameras in NYC parks before expanding to Tokyo, Berlin, Sydney, Stockholm and beyond; in Toronto, there was Matt Greenwood's Take a Picture, Don't Steal. This Tumblr blog, the Snapshot Project, features anonymous pics of Montreal.

But for Toronto's The Artist Project art fair, Barnwell's created a show that's specific to the city at this moment in time. And while he's shared a few previews on Instagram, the full project can only be seen IRL.

Over the last three weekends, Barnwell strung cameras on trees and signposts and whatever else will hold the weight of a Fujifilm QuickSnap, leaving them in more than a dozen scenic locations across the city, from Trinity-Bellwoods Park to the Woodbine Beach boardwalk.

The cameras stay in the wild somewhere between 12-24 hours before Barnwell rounds them up and develops the results.

Every photo — even if they're blurry and/or overexposed — is included in the installation appearing at his fair booth to Feb. 25.

"It's really about showing every single image that was taken, good or bad," he says. "I feel like because other people took these pictures, I don't really have that kind of authority to do a selection process." A total of 480 glossy, 4x6 snapshots make up the finished piece.

"How people interact with the camera is really interesting," says Barnwell.

Selfies are big. The same goes for pictures of dogs.

But the results are almost always as joyful as they are mysterious. Says Barnwell: "What they decide to capture is really beautiful."

Check out some of his favourites. 

(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
(Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
Take a Picture photos of Toronto from Spring 2017. Barnwell did a test run in the city last year. (Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
Scenes from the Take a Picture project. (Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)
Installation view of a past edition of Take a Picture. (Courtesy of Max Hart Barnwell)

The Artist Project: Contemporary Art Fair. To Feb. 25 at the Better Living Centre, Toronto. www.theartistproject.com

About the Author

Leah Collins is the Senior Writer at CBC Arts.

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