Placed along the street-level windows of TIFF Bell Lightbox — Toronto’s hub for international film screenings and events — Sam Cotter’s On Location (2016) explores the relationship between the city and the motion picture industry. Cotter investigates the ways in which film crews reconfigure and temporarily transform the urban environment, turning public space into private space. Through the artifice and equipment of movie production, Toronto can become almost any other city in the western world; rain and snow can be imported, night and day can exchange places.

The series On Location situates this industry as an organism that coexists with the city, constantly moving through it, temporarily modifying it, but leaving few traces when it moves on. Shadowing professional film crews, the Toronto-based artist has documented the small manifestations of their interventions. His photographs capture the streetscapes and banal components of production, such as pylons, cables, apple boxes, and scrims—providing evidence of the paradoxical effort taken to make the convoys of trucks, people, and equipment invisible and their location interchangeable. Through Cotter’s images, the fabricated suspension of disbelief integral to mainstream cinema becomes a metaphor for the artifice of all representation.

Using a coloured background to unite the images, Cotter references the filter commonly used to make film lights look like midday sun—765 LEE Yellow. Shedding warm light onto the street, he draws passersby into these artificial scenes. As a whole, On Location explores the permeability of urban space and the slippery nature of representation, bringing attention to the complexity of decoding the camera’s gaze.

The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of the Toronto Arts Council.

Presented in partnership with TIFF

Curated by Bonnie Rubenstein