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Ed Ou: Democratizing Documentation

O’Born Contemporary, Toronto Oct 1 to Nov 5 2011
Ed Ou <em>Untitled</em> from <em>Revolution</em> 2011 © Ed Ou Courtesy O’Born Contemporary Ed Ou Untitled from Revolution 2011 © Ed Ou Courtesy O’Born Contemporary

Ed Ou <em>Untitled</em> from <em>Revolution</em> 2011 © Ed Ou Courtesy O’Born Contemporary

As the door slammed shut on the 30-year regime of its president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was among the nations that initiated what has become known as the Arab Spring. Documenting this revolutionary time in the history of the Middle East was Ed Ou, a 24-year-old “culturally ambiguous” Canadian photojournalist. Ou has a long list of countries he has travelled to in order to document such political moments, and he also bears a surprising number of awards (including the Contemporary Issues award from World Press Photo) and grants (such as the Getty Images Editorial Grant) for his age.

Ou’s recent activities took him to Tahrir Square, where his eye fell upon a people in the midst of a physical and psychological upheaval. Although he meets the qualifications of documentary photography, viewing his work in the context of the gallery calls for a pause to absorb fleeting signs of humour and humanity. In one untitled work from his Revolution series, a group of young men gather in the darkness, the glow of their cellphones casting an indigo hue across their features; they are raptly absorbed with their task, which most likely involves connecting with other young revolutionaries. This image, though it acts as a mere marker of time, suggests a dichotomy that allows us to see the light of their phones as heralds of an uncertain future.

The rest of the photos in Ou’s exhibition at O’Born Contemporary work to a similar end: tempering the problematic nature of documentary photography which too often turns its subjects into a sight to be pitied. Rather, Ou gives these faces singularity, and, in the process, gives the viewer a chance to see people realizing the power of their own potential.

This article was first published online on October 6, 2011.

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