Stealer of souls and fodder of the paparazzi, the photograph has had a huge impact on our lives. From advertising and ID cards to family portraits and crime scene pictures, there’s no denying its usefulness. As a fine art form, photography continues to evolve as a dynamic medium. This is nowhere better illustrated than in the 11th presentation of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal.
This year’s guest curator is Gaëlle Morel, an art historian and freelance curator who earned a doctorate in the history of contemporary art from Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Her guiding theme for this year’s show revolves around the mechanics and staging of photography. “Enlargement and monumentalization of prints, slide projection, in situ conception, the making of objects and machines, visual and audio mise-en-scène – for each approach there is a corresponding pragmatic use of display techniques that determines the form and meaning of the images shown.”
You can expect to see photos presented in a number of interesting ways. Kutlug Ataman’s video installation situates two adjacent screens, both of which project the image of Nese Yasin. These testifying portraits recount Yasin’s experience of the conflict between the southern and northern parts of the Cyprus. Jim Campbell uses LED grids behind images and semi-opaque surfaces to create ghostly silhouettes of pedestrians and cars going by. Jeff Guess’s From Hand to Mouth is a 22-metre long photographic series that is hung in a panoramic circle from the ceiling of a darkened room. And on the corner of Ottawa St. and Duke St. you can see Michael Flomen’s illuminated billboard, The Blue Flyer II, that has captured the twinkling of fireflies at night on photosensitive paper.
Some of the exhibits fail to transcend their mode of presentation. Pavel Pavlov’s Every Bit of Landscape Beyond the Cloverleaf Interchange (Frankfurter Kreuz, Frankfurt, Germany) video records the artist driving round and round the highway traffic junction. Four screens surround the viewer and present four views from inside the car. One points towards the front windshield, two out the side windows and one looks out the rear windshield. When the car has completed a loop of the roundabout, the cameras turn 90 degrees clockwise and the drive begins again. This is supposed to transform the interchange into a “metaphor that spins in a void,” but the small screens that sit almost on the ground make it hard to immerse oneself in the images. It just feels like watching someone banally cruising around in their car.
While it may seem that technology and staging have overwhelmed the images in the show, the ubiquitous nature of photos and our varied relations to them merit examination. Not only are the subjects of the pictures important to understanding their significance, but the ways in which we consume the shots are too. After all, seeing your friend’s photo plastered in a news broadcast is a lot different than seeing it in a photo album.
Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal continues through Oct. 11 at various venues across the city. For more information on the exhibits and other activities taking place, check out the event website where you can download the complete programme.