In the Absence of Paradise is the most recent iteration of Jeff Bierk’s ongoing series The Back 40. The series began in 2013 as a means of documenting Bierk’s friends surviving on the streets of Toronto, on colonized land. Named after an empty lot in the Annex where they would take breaks from panhandling and hang out, the Back 40 has recently been lost to malevolent landlords emboldened by the logic of real estate development. In response, Bierk paints into his photographs, embellishing them, enshrining the Back 40 and other liminal spaces given over to unfettered development in a romanticism traditionally reserved for the pastoral. Bierk’s portraits refuse the erasure of a community; instead, they raise questions about how we determine which people and places are considered worthy of nurturance in Toronto. In response to questions around exploitation in contemporary street photography, Bierk ensures that his collaborators give ongoing consent and split profit from any sales.
In the Absence of Paradise