Isaac Applebaum

4 July 1981 - 17 July 1981
Opening Reception 1 July 2023 12am

Front Gallery:

Man to Man

Isaac Applebaum, editor of the well received art magazine Impressions will have his first Toronto solo-exhibition MAN TO MAN at Mercer Union Front July 4 to 17. The exhibition consisting of six large scale photographs is a good example of portraiture in the contemporary idiom.

Isaac Applebaum, originally from Winnipeg, came to Toronto to study Photo-arts at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in 1970. After graduating he remained here to pursue his interests in publishing and photography.


Deceptively simple photographs worth a second look – Man to Man, the eyes have it.
Vicky Sanderson
Globe and Mail
, July 1981

Man to Man, Isaac Applebaum’s photographic display at the Mercer Union until July 17, looks at first glance like an exceedingly simple and undistinguished collection of seven black and white Polaroids. But after careful scrutiny, the subtle shadows and partly obscured details that give the collection flavour and interest become apparent.

Six of the seven photographs are of photographer Eldon Garnett. Four of these are large, fuzzy shots of various aspects of the man’s head and shoulders. They are all untitled, unframed and placed on the floor against bare white walls, which was a conscious decision by Applebaum.

“The positioning of the pictures relates to making physical objects out of photographs,” he says, “and the nature of these objects calls for them to be set low to the ground. I don’t see them as fine art–I’m working with a visual narrative and trying to create an environment rather than just present a bunch of photos. Things like the fact that they are close to the ground and that there’s only one formal portrait are clues to what is going on in the show’.

Whether such clues would inform the average viewer of the plot and theme of Applebaum’s narrative is doubtful, but the collection does manage to impart an intimate impression of its subject. The most arresting piece is a shot that sits alone on one wall-and in which Garnett peers into the camera with a piercing gaze that unflinchingly follows you around the room. The expression is disturbing because while there’s no mistaking its intensity the deliberate fuzziness of the print makes it difficult to decipher what the eyes are saying.

Placed against another wall are three shots of Garnett, none of which shows his full face. In each, one tiny, hidden detail serves to add interest and call attention to the photo as a whole. In two of them, the detail is an almost indiscernible coat peg jutting out from the wall- in the other it’s an X lightly and inexplicably chalked on the back of Garnett’s coat.

In another photo, this one of a woman, a large, blurred spot, which Applebaum says came about almost by accident, creates the effect of a watery hole. “The spot appeared when I was washing the negative. I liked it so instead of fixing it, I decided to work with it.

The small photo of the woman, with sultry eyes rimmed heavily in kohl, looks a little lonely in the collection, as it’s the only portrait of a female. But Applebaum can explain why he included it in the show. “The portrait is in juxtaposition to the man-to-man relationship and it represents the female side of that relationship. It contains the longing and desire that you can’t have for a man.”

Mounted on the opposite wall is a formal portrait of Garnett holding a small pocket tape recorder that contrasts with the indistinct quality of the other shots. But in this bland offering, Garnett’s face is expressionless, save the tiniest hint of the kind of limpid smile that shy people affect for a tonnal portrait.

Applebaum’s show is unlikely to interest those who like their art slick, glossy and easily digestible. But those who delight in discovering hidden depths in deceptively simple objects will find Man to Man worthwhile.