Honing a practice based on respect and transparency, Toronto artist Jeff Bierk’s images are a direct response to his concerns surrounding issues of consent between photographer and subject. A former “street photographer” who documented homeless individuals sleeping on city streets, Bierk has since critiqued the genre as one that exploits and aestheticizes, “expanding the divide” between viewers and the individuals depicted. Bierk’s process now involves an ongoing collaboration with his close friends, where they decide which photographs are selected for public display. Encompassing scenes of both harsh reality and strong camaraderie, “the images are made for the purpose of sharing a beauty specific to my friends, and honouring the strength of a community of people relegated to the alley. This beauty far surpasses that peddled by dominant culture, and is found in people surviving the precariousness of life on the street on colonized land, and is shared in the moments between criminalization, incarceration, and institutionalization.” For Bierk, the lived experiences of his collaborators are an equally important part of the image-making process.
Operating outside of a traditional exhibition context, Bierk offers an accessible public view of his work by putting it on the streets. For this transient and roaming installation, images of his friends sleeping or laying down are printed on fleece blankets and distributed throughout the Annex area near Bierk’s “Back 40”—an empty lot behind his apartment that is used for socializing—and around Queen and Church, where the artist works. The blankets offer both a practical purpose of comfort to Bierk’s collaborators and function as a method of performance, one documented in an evolving array of images posted on Instagram (@jeffari). Through his work, Bierk questions: “Is the dialogue about homelessness in Toronto sophisticated, engaged, or humane enough for the photographs to resonate positively or bring about change?”
The artist gratefully acknowledges support from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, and Canada Council for the Arts