OCAD University

Portraits by April Hickox and Rafael Ochoa document 'unseen'

city workers

July 26, 2012

Portrait of a park worker holding a Canada goose, by April Hickox.Faculty of Art Associate Professor April Hickox, with her collaborator alumnus Rafael Ochoa (BFA, Photography, 2010), have been getting a lot of attention lately for their 30 portrait installations of City of Toronto parks workers, titled simply Workers, 2009 - 2011, currently on view on Toronto Island and the city ferry docks.

The idea to create the portraits was born out of Hickox's experience as an island resident during the City workers' strike in 2009, which saw about 24,000 public employees walk off the job in protest of job security, seniority and sick days. "The park really changed," said Hickox of the effect of the strike, in an interview with Toronto's Spacing magazine. "It was sort of exciting for me as a landscape photographer - there was hardly anyone here because the boats weren't running and the landscape was changing drastically; the grass was getting really long and things were really changing." The installation also got the attention of CBC's Metro Morning, with whom Hickox did an interview earlier this month.

The changing landscape inspired Hickox to document the effort of the "unseen hands" of those that work to beautify Toronto's public spaces. "As the politics and values of park management change it is the Island park workers, some who have worked in the park for 30 years, who are affected," notes the artist's statement. "Largely unseen, they implement the transformations of the park, carrying out their jobs on behalf of those who use the park, providing us with respite from the stress of city life. To me they are the unsung heroes who have made a life commitment to the land, investing themselves physically, emotionally and at times spiritually to the environment they nurture."

An installation view of the Park Workers exhibit.

The portraits on exhibit on Toronto Centre Island.

The body of work includes more than 90 portraits taken by Hickox and Ochoa. About half of the collection can be viewed on Hickox's website, but for the most impact, be sure to check out the 30 life-size versions installed in situ on both Toronto Island buildings and at the ferry docks. The works are on view until September 15, 2012.

Congratulations April and Rafael!

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