photographer Joy Kardish does her part to preserve, and reveal, almost forgotten spaces
by Holly Gordon
Joy Kardish is an unassuming woman. At a little more than five feet tall with a slight build, the Ottawa-based photographer is both soft-spoken and quick to smile — a genuine smile, one from the eyes.
It’s surprising, then, to hear the artist — seated on a bench in the middle of her exhibition, Echo of the Dance, at the Dale Smith Gallery — detail how she works her way into often restricted, abandoned spaces to take photos of all-but-forgotten architecture.
“Well, you beg,” says Kardish, quickly laughing. “You beg, you’re persistent. You talk a lot. It’s the only way.”
For as long as six months, in some cases. In Kardish’s second solo Dale Smith exhibition, she photographed the interiors of three spaces: the Valley Halla mansion outside of Toronto; the Crystal Ballroom at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel; and Soeurs de la Visitation convent in Ottawa.
It took Kardish about a year to get into the spaces, photograph them and develop the film the way she wanted – and half that time was spent gaining access. The Crystal Ballroom, the abandoned penthouse floor of the King Edward Hotel, was particularly difficult; Kardish says she was allowed only a 35mm camera to shoot the empty space— no tripod, no lights, and her time limit was 12 minutes.
“I think she (the hotel’s PR contact) was trying to discourage me,” says Kardish, laughing again.
Getting into Valley Halla, where HBO’s Grey Gardens was shot, was less restrictive, but Kardish still had to talk the owners — the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, the management of the Metropolitan Toronto Zoo and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority — down from a $5,000 donation to a $200 one for her to get in. Luckily, with Soeurs de la Visitation in Ottawa, Kardish had an “in.”
With this work, the viewer can use Kardish as his or her own “in.” Standing in front of each photograph gives the sense of actually standing in each space. One of the first displayed photographs is of the window-filled half of the Grand Ballroom; Kardish’s first time working with paper negatives — and decision not to work with digital cameras — brings the unlit, daytime atmosphere of the abandoned ballroom to life.
“I wanted it to feel like you’re in it,” says Kardish.
The colours the artist adds during the development process in her darkroom — oil paints and watercolours specific for photographs — give a certain mood to each work, and the photo taken in the basement of Soeurs de la Visitation has that dank, eerie quality one might attribute to, well, church basements. A shot of the only decoration in the convent — peeling wallpaper with a pattern that’s back in fashion — is a perfect detail. It’s evident that what Kardish has displayed on the gallery’s walls isn’t a new love for this art.
“I’ve always been fascinated by places that are empty but not in decay,” she says. “You know when you’re a little kid when you’re walking — well not a little kid, but older, you’re walking and you look at people’s houses thinking how they live and what’s done with these spaces. I was always fascinated.”
Kardish points to her childhood “best best friend,” Lisa, as having fostered that love: Lisa and her nine siblings lived in a house with what Kardish describes as a beautiful staircase, large windows and an elegant mother wearing an ascot — all fueling Kardish’s architecture fantasies.
“All my other friends wanted to move into modern houses, and not me,” she adds.
Aside from her healthy architecture obsession, Kardish also sees her work as historical documentation — telling the stories of these spaces that may not be written, but can be felt.
“(I’m interested in) old spaces because I think they have a life to them,” finishes Kardish. “There’s a life there that was lived and I think it’s very important that we preserve them.
“It’s a way for me to do my bit. To preserve them and to show them
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