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A towering essence

A 70-foot-tall installation of Toronto-based portrait photographer Jorian Charlton’s work was recently unveiled in Toronto’s financial district. We spoke with her to find out more.

Jorian Charlton ArtworxTO 1

Image courtesy of Jorian Charlton.

Toronto-based portrait photographer Jorian Charlton takes an organic approach with her sitters, remaining quiet and allowing time for them to reveal their true essence. With her uniquely poetic style of portraiture, Charlton largely documents young artists from Toronto’s Black community, often landing her work on album covers, magazine spreads, and now even Bay Street building facades. 

As part of ArtworxTO: Toronto’s Year of Public Art 2021-2022, a massive 70-foot-tall version of an untitled portrait by Charlton was recently hung from the exterior scaffolding of 330 Bay Street, in the heart of Toronto’s financial district. The towering family-style portrait depicts three subjects – model Angaer standing over identical twins Whak & Mo – all styled in elaborate tulle dresses. According to Charlton, seeing her work unveiled at such a gigantic scale felt “overwhelming … but in a really good way.”

On December 18, Charlton will make her AGO debut with her acclaimed solo exhibition Out of Many, which features her original photography alongside vintage 35mm slides taken by her father in the 1970s and ‘80s. We spoke with Charlton about her collaboration with ArtworxTO, her artistic process, and where else she might like to see her work blown-up and displayed to the public.           

AGOinsider: Did you create this photograph specifically for this collaboration with ArtworxTO, or did you select it from your existing catalogue? Can you describe what it felt like to see your work blown- up to such a large scale, and on view to the general public on Bay Street?

Charlton: I chose this image from my existing work, from a series I created with an amazing team during COVID, which we organized over Instagram. It was a creative project we planned, not for any specific publication.  It felt overwhelming to see my work blown-up on such a large scale to be honest, but in a really good way. I received a lot of positive feedback and support from my community which means a lot to me. I feel like as an artist, you have a lot of moments of self-doubt; especially for me becoming a mother for the first time in 2019 and having a second baby this year: it's hard to find a balance between creating and being a parent. I always feel like I'm behind or should be doing more.


Jorian Charlton ArtworxTO 2

Image courtesy of Jorian Charlton.

AGOinsider: This is such a striking and unique photograph. Can you share some of what your creative process was when capturing it? What were you trying to achieve artistically? 

Charlton: The whole creative process was really a collaboration. It wasn't a big production, just a few creatives in my living room experimenting within the space. Angaer is very ethereal and poised and the twins, Whak & Mo were really energetic, down to earth, and pleasant to be around and I wanted that energy to show through the images. I'm going to be real! I didn't have anything specific I wanted to convey with these photos, I just wanted to create with people who genuinely wanted to create with me. I like to take an organic approach to my work and prefer to let the viewer make their own interpretations.

AGOinsider: Your portraits evoke an incredible amount of emotion and a strong sense of identity. How do you select your models/sitters? Can you briefly describe your direction style during a shoot?

Charlton: I prioritize taking photographs of people in the Black community. I just know when I see the person that I want to photograph them. I'm drawn to skin/texture/hair. I can be pretty quiet during a shoot, which is a good thing, I like to let people be and just let them do what feels most comfortable to them. For people who might not consider themselves “models”, I allow them the space to feel comfortable and capture their essence. 

AGOinsider:  If you could have another one of your works blown-up and put on view in any public space, in any city in the world, where specifically would that be and why?

Charlton: There’s a few places I have in mind, but the first one that comes to mind is London, England. I see a lot of connection between Black communities in Canada and the UK when it comes to style and music and I'd love to explore these connections.

If you’re in Toronto, visit 330 Bay Street now and witness the work of Jorian Charlton in epic proportions. Visit the AGO and see Charlton’s solo exhibition, Out of Many, on view December 18.

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