2022 Alliance Française Award exhibition at Alliance Française, Toronto

By Deion Squires

It can be delicate work photographing teenagers. Adolescence is often the breeding ground for some of our deepest insecurities. This year’s Alliance Française Award exhibition – curated by Bahar Kamali, co-presented with the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival, and made up of two projects by fourth year students from the Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Image Arts – dwells in that terrain.

Anne-Marie Cloutier, Desk, 2021

The subjects of Anne-Marie Cloutier’s Teen Spirit are still navigating adolescence. The impulse at that age is to hide or to recede into yourself, to conceal your vulnerability. The artist’s task, then, is to negotiate her way into the lives of the teens she photographs and, more than coax them out of their shells, get a glimpse at who they really are. As a mother herself, Cloutier looks with a tender eye. This investigation moves beyond her artistic practice and is propelled by her genuine interest in understanding these teens for the sake of her own maternal relationships.

As if mimicking the bedroom walls of a teenager, the photos are presented in a somewhat salon style. Images are placed on top of each other and at varying heights on the wall. The largest are the messiest in subject matter. A Chair Like my Own points our gaze at a towering pile of clothes waiting to be put away. Harry and Teddy centers the corner walls of a bedroom, an unmade bed peeking from the bottom of the frame. Pristine white frames interrupt the chaos, drawing us away from the real disorder seen in some of the photos and the simulated disorder of their arrangement.

Anne-Marie Cloutier, Mars, 2021

What may read as classic teenage sangfroid becomes, under Cloutier’s curious gaze, a quiet kind of vulnerability. The portraits contain a stillness to them; the sitters wait in suspended time. A snapshot of a wall reads “You R Very Beautiful,” written in sharpie, revealing the secret, yet universal, desire to not only feel beautiful but truly believe it. Also included in the exhibition is a 16mm film/video projection. Reminiscent of Warhol’s screen tests, Cloutier’s subjects face the camera and unfurl under the pressure of our prolonged attention.

John Delante, Handkerchief (An Ode to Self-Care), 2021

While both artists in this exhibition investigate the transitory nature of youth and adolescence, John Delante’s Finding Comfort Under the Sky takes a more individual look at the process of growing up. Having moved to Canada from the Philippines at seventeen, his recollection of youth contains bittersweet traces of nostalgia. The images radiate warmth, their scenes bathed in the golden light of a setting sun. They sit in homely wooden frames, calling forth memories of well-worn furniture found in family homes, similar to the table seen in the image Santo Niño. Most of the works are a uniform size and offer vignettes into the life the artist has grown into.

Memory and sentiment manifest as light and shadow; daylight illuminates tender objects and banishes darkness from the past. The tangled shadow of a window plant parallels the tangled branches on which a rosary hangs, weaving together narratives of care and faith. Almost as an inverse to Cloutier, the only overt subject here is Delante’s mother. She pops her collar, using it as a shield, from the wind or from the camera – maybe both.

John Delante, My Outreach, 2021

My Outreach is the largest departure from the uniformity of the other works. It is a floor-to-ceiling image of a lone shadow reflected on a wall and on the floor. The air of solitude is a noticeable contrast to the warm golden light that is producing the shadow, procuring the same bittersweetness present in the rest of the images. This project marks the beginning of another transitional period for the artist: the end of life as an undergraduate and on to other pursuits. As the saying goes, if you want to know your future, look at your past. Delante has found the resolutions that will propel him into the next stages of his life and career.

The 2022 Alliance Française Award exhibition continues until August 20.
Alliance Française/Pierre Léon Gallery: https://www.alliance-francaise.ca/en/art/2022-2023-season/exhibitions/83-alliance-francaise-award-exhibition
The gallery is partially accessible.

Deion Squires is an artist working out of Tkaronto/Toronto. Primarily image-based, his art practice is largely influenced by his identity, investigating the internet as a transformative tool, and performance as embodiment, as well as Black cognition and imagination.