A photographer whose main inspiration comes from urban streets and architecture, Heather MacArthur Bell has lived across the street from the 401 Richmond building at Richmond Street West and Spadina Avenue for just over five years. During this time, the area has seen great change, and seemingly unending construction – noise, dust, road closures, obstructions, and disgruntled neighbours and commuters. The community is just one of many in Toronto’s “city of neighbourhoods” to endure these disruptions. Not relying on a car to commute, but getting around solely on foot or bicycle, allowed Bell to take a more reflective approach as she documented the development happening around her.
In the process of photographing the details of this daily grind, Bell had the opportunity to speak with some of the construction workers (and TTC operators and city police) involved in these projects. She found that, for the most part, they are happy with and proud of their work. This sense of pride encouraged her to reflect on a common public attitude that often disparages and undervalues their labour and skill. In exasperation, citizens are quick to complain about all the construction, yet are equally quick to reap the benefits when the chaos has subsided. Often overlooked in all the commotion are the highly-skilled and dedicated people who work to shape, and hopefully improve, the urban landscape.
Toronto is an urban space, a great city, one that is ever-changing. Construction is, for good or for evil, part of that development. In revealing the reality of living in, under, and with construction, Bell invites viewers to make peace with it, to recognize the value in it, and to find those hidden curiosities that are briefly revealed, only to be concealed once again by new structures. The images in this exhibit document both the impressive work undertaken by those involved in the myriad projects, and the adjustments required of the community’s residents and businesses. Living With Construction represents the casting of Bell’s (atypically) patient, even affectionate, eye on a Toronto city neighbourhood in flux.