Sarah Palmer Wish You Were Here

Apr 20–Jul 31,  2023
Summerville Olympic Pools ⁠ accessible_forward
    Sarah Palmer, Lido Deck, Caribbean, 2018, from the series Wish You Were Here. Courtesy of the artist. “Cruise ships often dispose of harmful bilge water, by dumping it into the ocean, generating the same amount of sulphur dioxide fumes as 13.1 million cars per day.”
Sarah Palmer, Lido Deck, Caribbean, 2018, from the series Wish You Were Here. Courtesy of the artist. “Cruise ships often dispose of harmful bilge water, by dumping it into the ocean, generating the same amount of sulphur dioxide fumes as 13.1 million cars per day.”

In Wish You Were Here, Toronto-based photographer Sarah Palmer documents the world of “last-chance” cruise tourism, where passengers seek leisure time through voyages to destinations adversely affected by the climate crisis. Printed in larger-than-life scale at the waterfront-facing Donald D. Summerville Pools facility, Palmer’s photographs immerse viewers in the experience of traveling alongside happy vacationers, passing through fading coral reefs, disappearing glaciers, and what remains of endangered species—all aboard a vessel that further accelerates these negative environmental impacts.

The culmination of years of photographic documentation, Palmer’s work on cruisers is one chapter of her larger body of work about vacation culture amidst the climate crisis. The artist captures multiple subjects in-camera on film, creating dreamy, semi-distorted, and overlapping images that simultaneously look like advertisements and personal vacation photos, subtly revealing themes of excess and indifference. The irony of the cruise ship industry’s embeddedness and contributions to climate change—and the fact that “last-chance” tourism exists at all—feels unjustified while immersed in the artist’s revelations.  With creative clarity, Palmer’s use of multiple exposures and ghostly perspectives  allude to the hidden environmental and labour costs of leisure that cruise-ship culture promotes. 

Sarah Palmer, Sailaway Party, Florida, 2018, from the series Wish You Were Here. Courtesy of the artist. “The average capacity of a cruise ship is 3,000 passengers, with everything the ships come into contact with being likely harmed along their journey. The air, water, fragile habitats, coastal communities, and wildlife are all affected, with rising sea levels and superstorms being inevitable for Florida and the Caribbean at this point in time.”

Throughout each image, Palmer foregrounds a long look at what “leisure time” in late capitalism might look like. Cruise ships take passengers everywhere and nowhere. The vessels are floating cities that provide the amenities of an all-inclusive resort. Drinks, buffets, theatres, games, saunas, swimming, lounging, and spas are available just outside of each guest’s room, 24/7. All of this excess comes at a compounding cost, including the environmental impact of each cruise liner’s immense carbon footprint and pollution. When one looks at the number of gallons of waste released into the ocean every day by each of the estimated 300 cruise ships that exist worldwide, the numbers are difficult to comprehend.

Symbolically docked on the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto’s east end, the architecture of the Donald D. Summerville Pool mimics the elevated pool deck of a cruise ship, adding an additional layer to Palmer’s interpretation of vacation culture. The pool is likewise a place of leisure—a gathering spot for families and a place for folks to exercise. However, the aptly-sized facility and its surrounding decks fit hundreds of people, paling in comparison to the size and accommodation capacities of ocean liners. By placing Palmer’s photographs in dialogue with the Summerville Pool and Toronto’s waterfront, viewers are asked to acknowledge the uneasy entanglement of leisure time and environmental harm.

Sarah Palmer, I love Hawaii, Caribbean, 2018, from the series Wish You Were Here. Courtesy of the artist. “The carbon footprint per person on a cruise ship is on average 3x more than on land.”

Curated by Brian St. Denis

Presented by CONTACT

Sarah Palmer is a photographer based in Toronto whose work straddles the realm of journalism and fine art, questioning the conventional limits that both of these worlds hold for the viewer and artist alike. She explores pop culture and current events with a focus on the subcultures that these gatherings draw in. Palmer composes multi-frame exposures in camera, with no manipulation in post. By building layers of stories on the same piece of film, she creates a strong sense of environment while weaving together contrasts and similarities in the subject matter she’s photographing. She is a National Magazine Awards winner, Flash Forward and American Photography winner. Her work was included in TIME‘s Top 100 Photos of 2019, and has been generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council. Palmer’s work has been exhibited in galleries and exhibitions internationally including the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival and Gallery TPW.

Installation Views

    Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
    Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
    Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
    Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid
Sarah Palmer, Wish You Were Here, 2018, installation view, Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pools, south façade, Toronto, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and CONTACT. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid