Dr. Roberta Bondar: Within The Landscape at FCP
By Karl Petschke, exclusive to Torontopath.com
May 13th, 2011
It was with more than a little reluctance that the audience finally drew their gazes away from the gallery walls and made their way to their seats. With the exception of a young girl who stood peering over the crowd, decked out in a bright orange NASA outfit made especially for her small stature, each guest eventually sat down, and the room took on an air of quiet anticipation.
Photo courtesy of Stephen Wong
When the woman finally took to the stage, any hint of the audience’s reluctance was gone. Though the visitors’ minds still swam with the images of sun-washed prairies and sprawling woodlands, not a single pair of eyes wandered back to the vibrant pictures that lined the walls. Instead, they simply watched the woman intently as she began to describe the journey she had set off on to create this collection. Now all her years of research and discovery, all the irreplaceable moments she had hoped to capture for us, had found their way onto the simple white walls that surrounded us, encapsulated behind those panes of spotless glass.
While her work in photography was perhaps new to many of the gallery’s visitors, Roberta Bondar is a woman who needs no introduction, especially here in Canada. Having the distinction of being the first Canadian woman in space, she has spent her last 20 years sharing her unique perspective with individuals at home, and around the world. An outspoken champion of the environment, she has travelled the planet sharing her experiences and insights in hopes of inspiring a new generation – not simply to become environmentalists themselves, but rather to recognize and appreciate the profound and lasting connection between our society and nature.
And photography certainly seems like an excellent place to start. Recalling the times she spent looking down at the planet from orbit, Roberta tells of how she wished she could “bring that crispness, that clarity back to you”. In many ways, she explains, this has informed her career as a photographer, and even with a quick stroll around the gallery, it shows. Having been assembled using a variety of cameras, and film of all shapes and sizes (yes, some cameras do still use film), Roberta’s work is as remarkable for its technical approach as it is for its ability to communicate the truly staggering power and beauty of our natural surroundings. The collection primarily features images gathered from Canadian national parks all across the country, and though it represents a firm call to action on behalf of our ever-more vulnerable environment, the honest, moving way it documents our country’s incredible diversity assures the eager onlookers that it is a real labour of love.
Because there’s a passion that can be felt inside every picture frame, behind every moment of contemplation, and every wry grin. Roberta’s dedication is reinstated with every glance around the gallery, adorned now with pictures taken from overgrown mountainsides, from the gaping doors of planes, and the precarious seats of riverboats. For her, she maintains it’s all to give the planet a more prominent place in our collective consciousness, to teach us to recognize nature as part of our common heritage.
Art, she argues, represents one of our most promising tools in attempting to engage people in these issues. This is why her work attempts to “infuse art into science, but also to infuse science into art”, because the desire to express ourselves, to connect with our planet and each other on a deeper, more human level, contributes to the well-being of our environment in a way that figures and statistics never will. It allows us to relate on our own terms, as Roberta explains, because someone who spends their time walking the concourse in Toronto will see the images very differently than someone who calls the rambling forests of B.C. their home, or someone who grew up in an entirely different part of the world. What’s more, it serves as a celebration of our environment's diversity as well as our own, one that aims to unite these varying perspectives, and affirm that they all have value, rather than taking on the tone of divisiveness or condemnation that characterizes so many environmental groups. “We can’t apologize for being here,” she says, “but we have to understand our impact.”
Within The Landscape will be running at the First Canadian Place Art Gallery until May 27th as part of Scotiabank’s city-wide Contact Photography Festival, and even if you only have a moment, I urge you to take a look. It promises to be as eye-opening as it is eye-catching, and represents a truly extraordinary accomplishment for one of Canada’s most respected and celebrated figures.
“I wanted to bring something back from the adventure” she had mused, addressing the spellbound crowd of onlookers on the exhibit’s opening day. I, for one, am grateful that she did.
Last updated on 5/17/2012 1:07:06 PM