Camera Atomica at AGO

VIP observers sitting on the patio of the Officer's Beach Club on Parry Island are illuminated by the 81 kiloton Dog test, part of Operation Greenhouse, at Enewetak Atoll, April 8, 1951 (from the Ryerson Black Star collection holdings).

Nuclear photography from Hiroshima to the meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi. I find AGO's smaller side exhibits wildly unpredictable. They are sometimes one claustrophobic room with a few works and sometimes four large spaces jammed with work across many disciplines (if it fills four rooms and has a 300-page catalogue, why isn't it a headliner?). Camera Atomica should have been a main exhibit. But how do you market pain, horror and devastation? That's a tough sell! You have to be extremely talented and innovative as a marketer to convince people to come and pay to see some of their own species' worst acts. That's the only reason I can think of: no one knew how or wanted to try to sell this show, so it ended up with second (third?) billing. Camera Atomica is such a powerful, upsetting and obsessively curated show; you leave it disgusted with humanity and by proxy yourself. You leave it reflecting, despairing slightly and raggedly hoping for better. And that's a central function of art. Maybe it's too soon. Maybe we're just not ready for photography of this kind. Because it's strange how comfortable we are looking at paintings of ancient atrocities. We study them with a dispassionate eye. Massacre of the Innocents is one of my favourites at the AGO and its subject matter is brutally murdered babies, among other things (by "favourite" I mean it moves me, I mean I find it amazing, and it's weird that its gruesome subject matter bothers me far less than the photos of the children of Chernobyl. Must be because I can allow myself the fallacy that those brutal battles that happened a long time ago capture a different kind of human; we have all evolved since then. Except Camera Atomica tells me we haven't, not much). So, an open plea to AGO's marketing department: either ignore your board and take more creatives risks, or give up: sub the work out to a more avant-garde agency. If you can't sell the hard things about art, if you can only sell sexy graffiti shows and name-brand celebrities, then you're failing as an institution.