The Canadian Museum
Hello from Ottawa: The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography
By Susanne Pacher
My schedule in Ottawa this past weekend was extremely compressed, but there was one place I wasn?™t going to miss: the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography. As a person with no formal background, yet a keen interest in the visual arts and photography, I have been wanting to visit this museum for a long time. And my Internet research revealed that the Museum is featuring a very special exhibition right now: two photographic series by Sunil Gupta, an Indian-born Canadian citizen, exploring issues of identity, culture and the immigrant experience. Let me start first with the Museum itself, a rather unique venue in Ottawa with a long history. The Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography began its life all the way back in World War II as the Still Photography Museum of the National Film Board. Its activities include collecting, publishing and organizing traveling exhibitions and educational programs to foster the efforts and development of Canadian photographers.
It?™s a unique place in a unique venue: the Museum is housed in a former railroad tunnel of the Grand Trunk Railroad. It is accessible through an above-ground entrance immediately west of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel in downtown Ottawa, and an elevator takes you 2 storeys down from street level. As a former railroad tunnel, the Museum's unique dimensions won?™t come as a surprise: it measures 166 meters (545 feet) in length by only 17 meters (56 feet) in width. The facility is more like a 32-storey high-rise building laid on its side.
Even constructing the Museum entailed significant engineering challenges: due to the narrowness of the site, squeezed in between the Chateau Laurier on one side and the Rideau Canal on the other, construction trucks had to back into the site, edging their way half a mile along a road carved in the limestone and shale cliff face. But I wasn?™t only there to explore the unique architectural features of the gallery. The main reason for my visit was an exhibition by Sunil Gupta, whose 2 collections shed light on the immigrant experience.
Sunil Gupta was born in New Delhi in 1953 and came to Montreal with his parents at age 15. Over the years he has also lived in New York City and London and just recently moved back to India. Originally he studied accounting, but later moved into visual arts and photography.