By Pierre Dessureault
It seems less and less possible to analyze photography and photographic history without talking about production protocols, dissemination strategies, and contexts for conservation and display in public collections. Andrea Kunard situates her undertaking in regard to this position from the start:1 “Inasmuch as a presentation of selected works highlights certain objects, so it states something about the institutional and cultural history and the values embedded in the activity of collecting. Museum collections are generally multifaceted entities that reflect the concerns of numerous individuals (curators, directors and donors), often over long periods of time.”2
The history that structures Kunard’s project, discussed in detail in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, is not linear and complete, nor is the aim to highlight all the major art currents and aesthetic categories that have marked the evolution of the medium over four decades. Rather, Kunard sets out to trace how photography has been conceived at certain times, and how these conceptions were implemented by the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (CMCP) to assemble two collections and build a patrimony that, today, we can situate within the evolution of cultural practices that marked an era.
The decades covered in the exhibition correspond to a particular period in the development of the medium both in Canada and abroad. The 1960s3 and ensuing decades were marked both by the ascent of photography to the status of art – with all the ambiguities and arguments that a debate inherited from the nineteenth century involves – and by recognition of the plurality of photographic practices that are inscribed in the broad field of image-based production. It was a transition from photography bound to description of the real and aesthetic codes inherited from the avant-gardes of the 1920s and the pure photography of the 1930s to 1950s to a proliferation of approaches, a diversification of protocols and image-production codes, and a blurring of lines between the canonical genres that had been in force. The new era was one of a search for new forms for expression, unusual narrative strategies, and innovative visual vocabularies that would be used to look at previously unexplored subjects…
2 Andrea Kunard, Photography in Canada 1960–2000 (Ottawa: Canadian Institute of Photography of the National Gallery of Canada, 2017), 11.
3 See Pierre Dessureault, “La question de la photographie,” in Denise Leclerc and Pierre Dessureault, Les années 60 au Canada (Ottawa: Musée des beaux-arts du Canada and Musée canadien de la photographie contemporaine, 2005), 114–65. Also available as The 60s in Canada (Ottawa National Gallery of Canada, 2005).
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