John Max: First and Last

Crucifixion Express: Destination Nowhere, VIII – A Lapidation, 1956-1960 © The Estate of John Max / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery

First and Last

Exhibition Dates: January 14 – February 25, 2023
Stephen Bulger Gallery, Toronto

Stephen Bulger Gallery is pleased to present John Max “First and Last” featuring two exhibitions of photographic work by Canadian artist John Max (John Porchawka) (b. Montréal, Québec, 1936; d. Montréal, Québec, 2011): “John Max Shouts: Enough, No More, I Want” and “Strike up the Band!.”

John Max was born to parents of Ukrainian origin who arrived in Canada in the 1920s. He studied painting with Arthur Lismer and music at the McGill Conservatory of Music before discovering photography in the late 1950s through Lutz Dille, whose work, strongly influenced by Europeans such as Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész, and Robert Doisneau, brought the subjectivity of the photographer to the fore. Max discovered in this approach something that corresponded with his own vision of the human condition. From that point on, he devoted himself to photography. While self-taught, Max then completed his training with Guy Borremans and Nathan Lyons.

Strike Up The Band!, Old Lady of Clear Vision (6), 1974-1979 © The Estate of John Max / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery

Throughout the 1960s, Max worked on assignments for various magazines and for the Still Photography Division of the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada. During this immensely productive decade, his work was widely disseminated, particularly in the many exhibitions and publications of the Division. Max also produced photographs for the Christian Pavilion at Expo 67. He represented Canada at the Fifth Biennial in Paris in 1967, and took part in “Four Montreal Photographers,” an exhibition organized and circulated by the National Gallery in 1968. An exhibition of 57 photographs entitled “And the Sun it Shone White All Night Long” toured Europe in 1969, sponsored by the Cultural Services of External Affairs Canada. Max’s photographic vision reached its maturity with the “Open Passport – Passeport Infini” exhibition (a sequence of 161 black and white photographs culled from Max’s archives, some dating as early as 1960), organized by the NFB’s Still Photography Division and shown at The Photo Gallery in Ottawa in 1972. It traveled to multiple venues in Canada until 1976 and was printed as a photobook by the Toronto-based magazine IMPRESSIONS as its special issue No. 6 and 7 in late 1973.

Images (left to right): The Unholy Saints (1), 1956-1960 © The Estate of John Max / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery. They Were Twelve Who Had Dirty Souls (7), 1956-1960 © The Estate of John Max / courtesy Stephen Bulger Gallery.

Following the critical success of “Open Passport,” John Max was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974, and received a Senior Arts Grant from the Canada Council to travel to Japan. Max had long professed his interest in the country’s culture and spirituality, and he remained in Japan between 1974 and 1979, long after his temporary visa expired. Despite his protestations and desire to remain, he was arrested by the Japanese authorities, and thousands of rolls of film put into storage. Those storage conditions rendered many unusable, but he eventually brought the remainder when he returned to Canada. Max returned to a Montréal that had changed radically. Over the intervening years his health and creativity declined. Although he remained a key influence on many, he was no longer at the forefront of the creative scene in Québec and became increasingly obscure. In 1997 the Stephen Bulger Gallery presented “Swallowing a Diamond,” for which Max designed a site-specific installation of work from previous series.

John Max’s exhibitions comprised sequences of images that, when seen together, create a dynamic and provocative presentation that combines the formal and narrative elements of individual photographs into a more holistic experience. This exhibition presents his first solo exhibition of a sequence: “John Max Shouts: Enough, No More, I Want” (1960); and his 1986 sequence “Strike up the Band!” (1986).

Stephen Bulger Gallery
1356 Dundas S. W.
Toronto, ON, M6J 1Y2

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Accessibility: The gallery is partially accessible, with a level entrance, an accessible washroom, wide and unobstructed pathways, and automatic doors at the entrance.