The exterior of Hart House. Yassine ElBaradie/The Varsity

Arriving early, I wandered through the Hart House halls in search of photographs displayed at the Hart House Camera Club’s 94th Annual Exhibition of Photography. I came across one entitled Existence Y’all, by Joshua Payne Smith; a dancer floats delicately at the top of the frame in between swaths of bright, white light.

As I continued, a monochrome print entitled It Grows by Anastasiya Martyts caught my eye. The photograph is of a pale neckline with a floral tattoo, its ink creeping out from the frame like a vine. 

Founded in 1919, the Camera Club has continuously consisted of a full-service darkroom and instructors offering courses to both students and the general public.

Rick Palidwor, the program advisor, tells me that the Camera Club currently has about 90 members. William J. Dowkes, U of T alumnus and namesake for several Camera Club awards, tells me that its membership peaked at 400 about 20 years ago. Palidwor attributes this decline to developments in technology. With the advent of digital photography, he says, people lost interest in making prints. Dowkes doesn’t hesitate to credit technological advances with the development of the art form though.

Dowkes reminds me that the W.J. Blackhall Award for Altered Images rewards digitally altered photos and adds that there has been a resurgence of interest in analog photography among young people in recent years.

As viewers began to gather in the hall, I stopped in front of a submission titled Field in Winter, by Stefan Ferraro. The photograph depicts a lone wooden hut that sits in a desolate frozen field. Isolation, by Art Chow, depicts another lone dwelling — a ramshackle cabin with broken boards jutting out like crooked teeth beneath a barren tree.

Dowkes walked me through the history of the awards being given out that night. Noting an absence of photographs of campus life, Yousuf Karsh, world-renowned portrait photographer, who Dowkes says was involved in photographing student theatre productions, became the namesake for the Campus Life Images award. The K.B. Jackson Award, says Dowkes, was established by a U of T physics professor who petitioned the faculty to establish an engineering physics program. The program has since become the current undergraduate engineering science program. Dowkes himself is the namesake of the awards for the categories of People, Places, and Nature.

Palidwor introduced me to two members of the Camera Club. Dowkes, they tell me, was a student in the sciences. One of his photographs entered in tonight’s competition — an old sepia-toned print of students gathered on a lawn on campus with surveyor’s tripods — may as well have been a photograph of his class. When asked about membership, they say that attendance at events fluctuates. The club holds ‘photography walks’, where members roam en masse around the city taking shots. Most recently, the group walked along ‘graffiti alley’ near Queen and Spadina. They hold regular ‘salons,’ where members offer criticism of each other’s work. 

All photos are on display outside of the East Common Room of Hart House until April 17.

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