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Realities Retouched

lakeheadLeonardo Galleries believer the online

133 Avenue Road, Toronto 416 924 7296 Mon-Fri 10-6, Sat 10-5

(Open until 8pm the first Thursday of every month)

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May 1-23, reception Thursday 7 May, 7-9pm:
CONTACT 2009. John Long & Mira Zdjelar:

Realities Retouched

Stereo photography! What an amazing way to view  John Long’s images. I was transported to glistening brooks looking up to the majesty of a mountain precipice. I was in a sense standing along with the photographer more than a viewer in what this artist calls hyper realistic photography. Although time has stopped and the water flowing over rocks is frozen in time. I find myself straining to hear the sounds that go along with what I see before me. In this vacuum of silence I can take the time to study every exquisite detail of this exotic mountain landscape. The artist claims it is “ironic that a revolutionary medium such as photography can showcase this stillness” But I ask what other medium can we so closely relate to? In this day and age when we are bombarded by so much moving, pulsating imagery. An orgy of information hits at us constantly from our TV and computer screens. Most of us only half pay attention taking in partial bits and bites. We seldom if ever stop to really peruse the view. Look at the details that surround us, pause and reflect on the elements, textures and nuances in nature. I appreciate being able to take this time and I find myself moved by this reflection.

The work of Mira Zdjelar also lets me pause and take note, but this time I am taken to a dreamscape. A scene of Cuban days gone by surrounded by murky melted charred ideas. Some of the photographs look as if damaged by fire, Images that are too hot to handle. Others are idyllic scenes that appear through tinted clouds. All of them make wonder what is the true story surrounding the scene I see.

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Alison Brown

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John Long is a Toronto based artist. He attained his BA in Photography from Ryerson University in 1981. His photographic practice includes the use of different equipment and technique, enabling him to exercise almost any aspect of photographic media. His artistic process combines both historic and current technologies.

John Long’s panoramic work exemplifies a great diversity. While social images, or portraits of people, animals and exotic cars display a social dialogue, they are also similar to the industrial or cultural documentary style shots that record both human presence and interaction. On the other hand, the landscapes are contemplative, serene, vast and tumultuous. Each piece is a comment about a location. Free of human presence, his African landscapes reveal exotic mystery, while landscapes of Canada speak to our Canadian identity.

Several years after graduation, John Long began to explore a technique known as the stereo format. He uses a 1929 Rolleidoscop medium format stereo camera, shooting on fine-grain, low speed film from which he makes high-resolution scans. He then assembles the images digitally, creating a three-dimensional effect, and prints on Enhanced Matte paper using Ultra chrome inks.

His stereo work is presented in a variety of formats: as stereo slides viewable in a late 19th century Taxiphote viewer, triptych prints viewable with a Hyper viewer large format viewer, as large diptych prints using a cross-eye viewing technique, and most recently as backlight stereo photographs that are viewed in the third dimension without the use of any optical equipment.

Artist Statement

Still Revolution

“My work integrates historic methods of stereo and panoramic photography with digital techniques in the processing and display of still images. It is a synthesis of the revolutionary foundations of still photography with the continuing evolution to both how the medium is produced and what current audiences accept. While my hyper-realistic photography in colour and three dimensions attempts to transport the audience into the reality the photographer experienced, the resulting image is still, non-moving and fixed. Trees do not subtly wave; people do not move but are fixed in a historic time the photograph was taken. This stopping of time allows the audience to examine closely and in detail the scene and relationships without time changing the experience. While all still photography displays this timelessness, hyper-realistic photography being the closest link to reality accents this stillness. It is ironic that a revolutionary medium such as photography can showcase this stillness.”

“Realities Retouched” “summarizes the essential issue that I address in my hyper-realistic photography as a still or motionless reflection of reality. The ability to visually experience slowly and deliberately the work and metaphorically touch and retouch the elements, detail, textures and lighting. Retouching realities in my work does not mean actually altering the image but rather means that the viewers is given the ability to examine closely and in great detail images either in three dimensions or in large format panoramic prints.”


Stereo photography falls into a visual space somewhere between the conventions of traditional monographic photography and the three-dimensional world we live in. The stereo photograph creates an interactive experience with the viewer and has the potential to disrupt and reconfigure the ordinary relationship between viewer and image, challenging the viewer to perceive the image in new, complex, and sometimes startling ways.

What is Stereo Photography? When we listen to music, we listen with two ears about eight inches apart and hear the music from two slightly different directions. Thus, our brains process this information into “stereophonic” music. Stereo recordings attempt to recreate this experience by using two microphones: one for the right ear and one for the left, which results in music that has both depth and dimension.

Similarly, our two eyes see the world from two slightly different perspectives, enabling our brains to combine them into a single image. Stereographic photography mimics this visual ability by using two camera lenses that are eye width apart, and composing two photographs designated for the left and right eyes. This trick/tool/mechanism thus produces an image that has startling depth.

Mira Zdjelar is a Canadian photographer born in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, presently living in Bucharest, Romania. After losing her own childhood and youth photographs to the turbulence of the recent war in the Balkans and moving to Canada, she decided to start doing photography herself. Images cannot replace memory; all they can hope to do is capture glimpses of worlds seen and lives lived. The challenge for the photographer is to uncover and share visions of the less obvious, the seemingly invisible. Mira’s ongoing project Urban Connections shows her fascination with cities and their structures, which appear similar, almost tangibly reminiscent, and different at the same time. Diversity enriches while showing invisible ties that bind cities, people, lives, and bring them closer to each other. Having lived in several different countries enables Mira to look for those connections and bring them forward. Mira’s passion also lies in photographing people, sometimes lost in the landscape, sometimes larger than their surroundings, but always an integral part of the shared human experience.

Artist Statement

“It all started with force majeure: a torrential downpour in Havana, a flooded house, photos thoroughly soaked in the muddy floodwater, seemingly gone. Nevertheless, spread around on the lawn to dry, the images got miraculously transformed, altered rather than destroyed by the devastating power of nature.

This opened an unforeseen door of creation, offered a unique opportunity to play with the properties of photography and use this chance interplay of techniques to transform the pictures, give them new life. Washed-out images were captured again, this time using a digital camera, and the end result is a mixed product of analog photography, “floodwater processing,” and digital technologies. In a way I experimented with technology by letting it experiment with itself, thus establishing a bridge between different modes of expression, things that were and things that are.

These were photos taken in Cuba, a country where the revolution itself has, in some ways, become aged and almost dated, where the notion of radical change is already covered with patina, the kind of patina this process of decaying and restoring highlights in an almost revolutionary way, thereby giving the other, Cuban, revolution and its dilemmas, dichotomies, and debates surrounding it, a new, digitally retouched, life.

The recurring temptation to use new media to recreate old techniques, to digitally render the graininess of 8 mm film or the unique noise of vinyl on a record player, represents more than a mere display of nostalgia or technological snobbism – beneath it lies the artists’ desire to explore the logic of natural progression between the past and the present, between traditional and contemporary forms of expression. What attracted me to this project was the fact that this retrograde process, this unusual reversal of form, was a given.

I started contributing after the initial work had already been cut out for me, but the role of digital was not only to merely document a spontaneous transformation. This was rather a unique collaborative process of low-tech and high-tech, of processing in muddy water on the one side and precision digital retouching on the other, with the aim of hopefully adding a new layer of possible signification to the photos. In many ways art always cheats a little, except I prefer to say instead that it channels spontaneity, gives it a more speculative dimension through a process of engaged dialogue with primordial forms.

By photographing my own work that had taken a different shape my goal was to witness this emerging quality of creation borne out of destruction. My exploration of different possibilities of the medium, but also my serendipitous collaboration with the forces of nature, solidifies the notion of the photographic image as a point of convergence, ultimately as open text.”

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About the author: Alison