Our organisation has been around a long time. The Polygon Gallery might be new, but we operated in our old location as Presentation House Gallery for almost 40 years. Even so, I didn’t have to look too far back in our exhibition history to find some compelling examples of photographers who take interesting chances with their shots, using photo technology to show us images that our unaided eyes would otherwise never see. Here are six artists working on multiple levels to enhance – and challenge – our vision.

moyra davey mailers

  1. Moyra Davey – mailers from Ornament and Reproach (detail), 2012-2013

Moyra Davey is a Canadian artist living and working in New York. Her photographs use objects, scrap materials, and yes, dust, to convey a human touch. The images aren’t pristine and neatly staged. Instead, the places that she photographs feel lived in, almost as if she’s showing us a memory.

This effect of looking into a memory is heightened by a few different visual layers. Davey folds up her photographs and sends them through the post. As they’re taped up, stamped, and postmarked, the images become even more complicated. Along with this, Davey’s work shows us the unique viewpoint of the camera by overexposing her film. The result is a shot slightly distorted because of too much light. This is something that resonates with this year’s theme; it’s making use of the particularities of looking through a camera, as opposed to the human eye.



  1. Sigmar Polke ­– Untitled (Green), 1992

Sigmar Polke was a German artist who tried just about everything you could try with analogue photography. Whether playing with exposure or experimenting with chemical processes in the darkroom, he was all for taking chances. Don’t try this at home: Polke even went as far as exposing his film to potentially dangerous uranium radiation!

The series of prints that we showed in the 2014 exhibition Dream Location were made using this process: exposing photosensitive paper to slabs of uranium. Radiation is invisible to us; and yet, it created beautiful, glowing images on the photo paper. Again, don’t play with radioactive chemicals! But do appreciate how photographic processes allow us to enhance and expand our ways of seeing, when we allow ourselves to get curious and creative.



  1. Frank Horvat – Untitled (for Coco Chanel), 1958

We were fortunate back in 2012 to show the work of the famous fashion photographer Frank Horvat. Horvat shoots in a photojournalistic style. His images appear much more spontaneous than the carefully staged editorial spreads we’re used to seeing in fashion. But it’s this experimental, risk-taking spirit that’s made Horvat’s photographs so iconic.

This shot for Chanel is about much more than just the clothes or the pose. In fact, the model is so obscured that we as the viewers have to work extra hard just to see her. Horvat doesn’t make it easy for us, and the viewing experience is more rewarding for it. Look at his use of the camera’s depth of field. Horvat exploits the camera’s focus, allowing the staircase to blur into an intricate, abstract whirl of lines and shadows. Here is an example of a photographer thinking on multiple levels, both close to the lens and far away from it.



  1. Jessica Eatoncfaal 109, 2011

Canadian photographer Jessica Eaton has taken the art world by storm over the last decade with her baffling images of cubes that resemble paintings by artists such as Josef Albers or Sol LeWitt. (Fun fact: “cfaal” actually stands for “Cubes For Albers And LeWitt.) Amazingly, the cubes that Eaton shoots in her studio are actually colourless – black, white, and grey. To create the stunning colours, she photographs the cubes on the same negative, using different colour filters in front of her lens.

There’s a great article in Canadian Art by Gabrielle Moser on Eaton, and I’d like to share a quote from it that’ll hopefully inspire you: “Though Eaton is a self-described perfectionist, she is most excited by her accidental discoveries: the experiments that ‘go wrong,’ but in the process reveal something new about photography, light and vision that she could not have otherwise seen. She describes these images as ‘photographs I wasn’t able to see before they existed.’”



  1. Andrea PinheiroChamber 6 (Ledge), 2011

In 2011, we showed new work by the Canadian artist Andrea Pinheiro, whose works are somewhere between painting and photography. She creates her artworks by doing a tiny abstract painting over a small photo negative, and then blowing the image up and printing it large. If you look closely beyond the swirl of paint, you’ll see that there’s actually a shot of… something. I see a tree to the right of the image, with the ground dropping off in the background and the clear sky beyond. Maybe you see something else.

In any case, instead of working at the level of the lens, Pinheiro disrupts her image by working on the negative. In the age of digital photography, we don’t print from negatives very often. Still, it’s interesting to think how we might use Pinheiro’s process as inspiration to come up with our own, original ways of creating layered or complex images.



  1. Eileen QuinlanDemystification #8, 2008

We’ve all heard the expression “smoke and mirrors” to describe illusory special effects. But American artist Eileen Quinlan actually shoots through smoke and mirrors. She gets very creative with the materials in her shots, creating ornate effects without any photo-editing software. All the magic is in the set-up. She props mirrors to bounce light and create dark shadows; she uses bits of fabric or reflective Mylar to add layer and depth. Even though she often photographs reflective surfaces, you won’t see her own reflection in her images – she’s very careful. Occasionally, Quinlan leaves a trace of herself or her studio in the image, if only a subtle fingerprint, or bit of dust.

We showed Quinlan’s work back in 2016, during Capture Photography Festival, in the exhibition Images That Speak. Take a good look at Demystification #8, and see if you can tell what it is you’re looking at. The photograph itself is pretty straightforward – even though it is, literally, all smoke and mirrors.