Alan Resnick never considered his late father an artist despite the fact that he was always snapping pictures. Now, Morris Resnick’s photographs are featured in Erratics, an exhibition running until June 14 at Toronto’s Koffler Gallery.
For Erratics, curator and gallery director Mona Filip brings together two projects centred on the notion of memory: one is by novelist Martha Baillie and the other is a joint effort by artist Malka Greene and Resnick, who’s a Gemini award-winning television writer. “I thought it was an interesting parallel to explore with the two projects how much memory and reality inspire fiction and how much fiction and imagination alter memory, or construct memory,” says Filip.
Resnick’s photographs impressed Filip. “He captured moments and expressions and people with a real photographer’s eye,” she says. “And it’s really wonderful to be able to share these images.”
Alan Resnick stumbled upon the cache of photos while rummaging through his parents’ condominium locker. He found material from the 1940s and from World War II – his father was a reconnaissance photographer and family lore puts him with “the planes.” Resnick knew his dad was the head of the photography club at Hart House while in medical school. At the time, he even won an award, presented to him by the renowned Yousuf Karsh.
Yet, the photos from the locker revealed a whole new side of Resnick, one his son hadn’t been privy to before. “When you see your parents in a certain light and now you’re kind of being manoeuvred into seeing them in another way, it can be jarring,” he says.
He showed the photos to Greene, who eventually compiled 350 of them in an online archive. Since Alan Resnick didn’t know what was happening in most of them, Greene filled in the blanks to provide each one with a description. However, this wasn’t a random task. Rather, it involved research to ensure historical accuracy. “I’m making it up based on something that to me feels like a truth,” she says of the process. “It’s not just like oh, that guy is standing on a rock.”
While wandering through the gallery, it’s easy to take the photos and their descriptions at face value. Though, Greene divulges that most of the information is made up. For her, the exhibition explores our relationship to our memories; how they’re dually comprised of both fact and fiction.
Meanwhile, Baillie’s multimedia project stems from her latest novel The Search For Heinrich Schlögel, about an archivist searching for Heinrich, a young German man who went missing in the Canadian wilderness. It includes a collection of postcards from when Baillie wrote down her manuscript and mailed fragments of it out. The exhibition also includes an audio component and original music by the late composer Nic Gotham.
Filip sees a similar thread between the two parts of Erratics. “One dealt with a real archive that a real person had amassed through his life,” she says. “And then the other one, the fictional piece that’s based on Martha Baillie’s book, dealt with a fictional archivist that is trying to piece together the life and what happened to a fictional character.”
While Greene archived the photographs, Alan Resnick wrote textual pieces that appear on the gallery walls. In one, he reflects on his father’s role as a reconnaissance photographer. Resnick never thought his dad was in danger during the war; the photographs told a different story. “I grew up believing my Dad was a stay-on-the-base man,” writes Resnick. “But when I think about how he lived his life, he was a more fly-in-the-air man.”
Erratics runs until June 14 at the Koffler Gallery, 180 Shaw Street, Toronto.