Exhibit Review: “The Light Inside: Wendy Snyder MacNeil”

I just got back from this exhibition at the Ryerson Image Centre, and quite frankly I am amazed at the quality of the work of Wendy Snyder MacNeil (b. 1943), and the impact it has when seen in person.

The first prints I looked at were from the Boston Open Air Market, taken in 1968-70. What struck me was the darkness of many of these prints, but the darkness  contained a lot of shadow detail and subtle tonal variations, deep and rich, never muddy. I believe the impact would best be experienced by seeing the prints in person; I just don’t see how a reproduction (even a high quality one) could do full justice justice to the richness of these silver gelatin prints.

The next images I looked were a series of portraits of hands, printed using the platinum/palladium printing process on very thing tracing velum. The prints were almost three-dimensional, with a beautifully long and soft tonal scale, with a lot of detail, but never harsh or clinical in appearance. These images were exhibited in a very straightforward manner: the thin tracing vellum attached directly to the wall with a pair of white pins. No glass. Added to the immediacy of the work.

Next I looked at what I considered the the highlight of the exhibition to me: a series of close-up portraits from the late 70’s to early 80’s. The were created using 6×6 cm medium format film, and like the hand portraits, printed on tracing vellum us the platinum-palladium printing method. Like the hands portraits, the prints were soft and organic, while at the same time detailed. Expressions showed a direct connection between the photographer and the person being photographed. The mood of the subjects appears often to be complicated, deep and subtle all at the same time. In some I sensed the conflict between being guarded and being vulnerable.

Some contact sheets were also on display, and it was quite striking to see the contact prints and then look at the enlargements, and how her printing process brought the images to life. The negatives by themselves were not a complete work; the printing process was a necessary part of the process.

There were also a series of images in the theme of album pages with multiple collected images in a single. Ineresting, but did not has as much of am impact on me as the portraits did. The other series of images I wanted to mention was Irish Tinkers, from 1968-70. These are portraits and images of a documentary nature, of proud people living a challenging life. These prints were behind glass which to me affected their immediacy, but still very powerful nonetheless.

This exhibit to me underscores the importance of seeing film based, hand printed photography in person. Seeing this work in a book (even the high quality exhibit catalog, which is a steal for a $10 donation) or (shudder) on screen is just not the same.

At the Ryerson image Centre in Toronto until April 10, 2016. Free admission

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