Institute for Contemporary Culture presents Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie: Afghanistan

Two photographic perspectives on conflict and its consequences

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) brings together two prominent photographers who have a history working in zones of conflict in Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie: Afghanistan, a Primary Exhibition in this year’s Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. The exhibition is presented in the Roloff Beny Gallery of the ROM from May 5 through until July 8, 2012.

“Afghanistan’s continuing saga of armed conflict deserves as wide an audience as possible.” Larry Towell, Magnum Photographer.

The exhibition features almost 70 black and white and colour photographs from two artists whose distinct styles strongly complement one another. Their works offer first-hand visual accounts of the effects of the decades-old armed conflict in Afghanistan. Both photographers are members of Magnum, an internationally recognized photographic cooperative of great diversity and distinction owned by its photographer members. Towell was the first Canadian to be named to Magnum.

Renowned Canadian photographer Larry Towell made five trips to Afghanistan between 2008 and 2011, and for a time was embedded with U.S. MEDEVAC troops. His intimate, mainly black and white photojournalistic images of Afghanistan are included in the exhibition. Towell focuses on the personal toll borne by Afghan people, capturing refugees, amputees, heroin addicts, soldiers, landmines and bombs. “Afghanistan’s continuing saga of armed conflict deserves as wide an audience as possible,” says Towell. “Hopefully we can have a conversation about some of the questions I was left with. For example, why is the insurrection still going on? Why, when the U.S. is planning to pull out, do we not realize there is a military building boom going on? Doesn't it seem like a long-term occupation? There are 700 military installations in Afghanistan, including 300 for U.S. forces, that's a lot. Afghanistan is bordered by China, Russia, Iran (public enemy number one) and Pakistan.” Towell has spent much of his career photographing in conflict zones around the world including projects in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Palestine, and Vietnam.

British photographer Donovan Wylie, born in Northern Ireland, is regarded as one of the UK’s most talented artists, known for his photographic examination of the architecture of conflict. His large-scale colour photographs portray remote military outposts, landscapes and other physical narratives of war. He was embedded with Canadian troops in Kandahar province for six weeks in December 2010 and January 2011. “We still have (military) on the ground in order to protect. They use sight as their main weapon as a form of control, in such a physical way, in maintaining, controlling and surveying. I had seen these sorts of structures in Northern Ireland, so I felt in many ways that I was still looking at my own country” says Wylie. His photographs provide a revealing and visually compelling record of modern military architecture.

“We are pleased to bring Larry Towell and Donovan Wylie together for the first time for an in-depth look at Afghanistan today,” said Francisco Alvarez, Managing Director, ICC. “Both are outstanding photographers who record the devastating effects of prolonged warfare on soldiers, citizens and the physical environment. The future of Afghanistan is far from certain, and we are reminded of our continued involvement and responsibility towards the people of this fragile country.”

“As the Canadian forces withdraw and shift their focus from combat to training, this exhibition provides a compelling visual narrative about the surveillance and social realities of Afghanistan” said Bonnie Rubenstein, Artistic Director of CONTACT. “We are proud to present one of seven primary exhibitions in this year’s festival exploring the theme of “Public” at the ROM. Within this context of history, Towell and Wylie eloquently reveal present-day political issues.”


Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie: Afghanistan will be accompanied by a series of public events including a free artist performance with Larry Towell on Friday May 11th; as well as a ticketed artist talk: Marla Mossman and her Peace Caravan journey along the Silk Road: Afghanistan, on Thursday, June 7th; and on Wednesday, June 20th, a ticketed screening of the film Afghan Star, a poignant documentary following the dramatic stories of four contestants as they risk all to become the nation's favourite singer on the pop idol-style TV series ‘Afghan Star’.

The Institute for Contemporary Culture

The mission of the Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum is to stimulate diverse audiences to think creatively, understand and change the world. Inspired by the mission and collections of the ROM, the ICC examines living societies and the natural world, linking the present to the past through innovative exhibitions, special events and the creation of dynamic original content using new technologies. For more information:

Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

CONTACT is an annual festival of photography in Toronto, during the month of May, with over 1500 local, national and international artists exhibiting at more than 175venues. Founded as a not-for-profit organization in 1997 and granted charitable status in 2011, the festival is devoted to celebrating, and fostering the art and profession of photography. It stimulates excitement and discussion among a diverse audience that has grown to over 1.8 million. CONTACT is the largest photography event in the world, and a premier cultural event in Canada. For more information:

Larry Towell, Donovan Wylie: Afghanistan is organized by the Institute for Contemporary Culture and the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival. Curated by Francisco Alvarez and Bonnie Rubenstein.CONTACT is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Celebrate Ontario and the Ontario Arts Council.

Larry Towell’s photographs are presented with the cooperation of Museum London (London, Ontario), Stephen Bulger Gallery (Toronto) and Magnum Photos. Towell received funding from the Magnum Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and through social media. Towell's photographs in this exhibition are from the collection of the Archive of Modern Conflict, London.

Donovan Wylie’s photographic series Outposts was a collaboration with the Imperial War Museum (London, UK) and the National Media Museum (Bradford, UK). The photographs were produced through the Bradford Fellowship Award, a partnership between the University of Bradford, Bradford College and the National Media Museum. Wylie’s photographs in this exhibition are from the collection of the Archive of Modern Conflict (London, UK).