A Toronto photographer explores the city's contrasts, using a new technique.
Jonathan Castellino has a unique perspective on Toronto. Whether it’s from the street or from a rooftop, he uses his camera to see the unseen in the city—and to make the familiar seem unfamiliar, and vice versa. In stark black and white, many of the images found on his website, SacramentalPerception, are arresting not only because of his varied use of filters, lenses, and angles, but because they point out the tiniest details of urban settings that go virtually ignored by most of us. And damn it, they look beautiful.
But a new series from the young photographer entitled inscape is making our stomachs flip for an entirely different reason. Using a new technique he developed, each inscape image juxtaposes two different Toronto landscapes as if each were the other’s reflection in a horizontal mirror, or a still lake. Wanting to know more, Torontoist asked Castellino a few questions about his project’s meaning, his process, and the polarity of Toronto.
Torontoist: How did you discover this technique? And what appealed to you about it?
Jonathan Castellino: The discovery of inscape was likely a combination of my love of diptychs in photography, and a certain dark aesthetic I have always tried to maintain, based on influences throughout my life. It struck me only recently that the illustrations of Stephen Gammell had a very strong impact on me as a child. The pictures that went alongside the Scary Stories series, available to most kids of my generation, depicted scenes with some degree of familiarity, but something was always terribly wrong. Everything was dripping, out of proportion, and with few exceptions, black and white. Looking back, I don’t know why they would give those books to kids. Some of us definitely liked it though. It was like Nutella—I thought I was getting away with something rather naughty under the guise of something wholesome.
As for the images themselves, by inverting the second image in what are essentially diptychs, and eliminating the usual barrier between the two separate images, I feel able to express myself more fluently, while on a more basic level, creating an image that is aesthetically appealing without any explanation necessary. I like to un-complicate; life is easier that way. The results look a lot like those ink blot tests a shrink gives you to analyze, but I never had to do those. I swear.
Why the name inscape?
I took the word “inscape” from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. I really like the way it sounds. While not using it in the sense he did necessarily, I like that the word resembles “interior landscape,” or “inverted landscape,” which describes some of my motives behind using this style, as well as explaining the implementation, all in a single word.
How did you choose the juxtaposed subjects of this series?
I walk around with a camera on me almost all of the time. If anything strikes me as being at odds with itself, I will usually take a few snaps of it. It isn’t hard to find conundrums in Toronto. A lot of these images have to do with entropy, and getting back to origins. Some are merely two sides of the same place, re-presented just because I love them. I like to have things both ways, and these images accomplish that.
Practically, sometimes the lines just match up with certain images when I take a look at the digital files, or the negatives as the case may be. Picturing things upside down isn’t that difficult for me, so I can piece an image together in my head before I even snap the shots.
How does this compare with your other photographic projects, in terms of theme and execution?
People familiar with the photographs I make are used to a certain style. I can’t pin it down for myself, but apparently it’s there. Thematically, I am only beginning to incorporate inscapes into my general style or view in photography, which seems to gravitate toward the documentation of architectural ruins. “Urban exploration” photography is often seen as synonymous with urban decay solely, which is a totally twisted and narrow view. I do quite a bit of rooftopping, which allows me some fairly unique angles of Toronto, and on a larger scale than say, the street photographer. Many of the city shots built into the inscapes are shot from the roofs of buildings, usually unfinished condos or abandonments.
Over the past year or so, I have been working with series images, usually laid out as diptychs or triptychs. This was a style adopted in order to show the breadth of a subject without using ultra-wide-angle lenses, which in my mind tend to warp and degrade what they are capturing. Seeing as inscapes are at their base diptychs, the style is not incongruous with my other work.
Hopkins, from whom I borrowed the term, used inscape to describe the element within each thing which makes it unique and distinct, the mark of the Master. The tag-line on my website is “everything is Holy, wholly.” It seems to fit.
Why black and white?
Isn’t there something wonderfully mysterious about black and white pictures? Monochromatic images tend to make things seem more important than they are. As well as being more dramatic, they also seem more primitive, and more honest. With inscape, continuity is important, so conversion to black and white is also an easy leveler for me when putting the image together.
Do you think there’s something especially polar about the city of Toronto?
We like to think that a polarity exists, because it makes us feel somehow more involved. We can’t get over ourselves. Despite the image Torontonians tend to have of themselves as compassionate people, we love taking sides. Empathy is hard to find in Toronto’s urban dictionary, in my mind. Defining ourselves in terms of opposition allows us to mask the fact that we aren’t really sure what we believe, despite what we report. That’s all just noise to me, though. I like focusing on the dichotomy which exists in the structure of our city, built versus natural. I’d rather observe from a rooftop than a street corner. It’s too noisy down there. But that’s just me.
All images by Jonathan Castellino.