Chris Donovan

Stay Solid or Move West  |  Canada Games Gallery

Curated by Christiana Myers


Chris Donovan is a documentary photographer and educator currently based between Saint John and Toronto. Born in Saint John (1995), his work focuses largely on issues of industrial capitalism and the intersection of communities and industrialization, influenced by his hometown. He holds an MFA from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) and is currently a PhD student at the same institution. 

Donovan’s work has been exhibited in group shows in more than 40 countries and across Canada at institutions including The National Gallery of Canada, The Image Centre (Toronto), and the Canadian War Museum. His work has been recognized internationally by the World Press Photo Awards (Amsterdam), the Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award (Ottawa), the Environmental Vision Award (University of Missouri), The Alexia Grant (Syracuse University), the Ontario Premier’s Awards (Toronto), the Ian Parry Scholarship (UK), and others. 

Donovan’s editorial photography work is published regularly in The Globe and Mail and The New York Times and he has been twice-named Canadian Photojournalist of the Year by the News Photographers Association of Canada. His first book Stay Solid or Move West, was self-published through his collective imprint Boreal Collective Press in 2021, and he is currently working on several other books including The Cloud Factory, which is a visual meditation on industrial classism and manufactured disaster in Saint John. 

Artist Statement

Stay Solid or Move West is a body of work that was borne from a guilt that photographer Chris Donovan harboured about not photographing his Toronto neighbourhood enough. In 2018, he started carrying disposable cameras in his pocket everywhere he went, photographing his friends, walks around his neighbourhood, his wife, and his apartment. In 2020, when the pandemic temporarily ended his ability to make frequent trips back to the Maritimes, the work took on new meaning. Donovan attempts to visually capture the collective feeling of longing amongst Maritimers living away. 

Through photographs of west-of-here, his hometown of Saint John, his ancestral homeland of northern Cape Breton, and the road in between, he photographically weaves a non-linear narrative story about memory, intergenerational trauma, love, nostalgia, sense of belonging, and the desire to freeze time. 

Donovan’s images are interspersed with found photographs from his own family albums and prints he found at antique shops and on the Internet. These photographs are interwoven with excerpts from Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief, a novel about a man in Toronto grappling with his sense of identity, intergenerational trauma, and strong connection to his roots in Cape Breton. Viewers are encouraged to read the photographs and text as one interconnected yet nonlinear poem about the feeling of longing experienced by all Maritimers who have left, returned, and left again.