By Pierre Dessureault
The exhibition Camerart, produced by Galerie Optica and presented in Montreal from December 16, 1974, to January 14, 1975, was a pivotal event in the photography/art debate in Quebec. Although a place in the art market had been carved out for photography in the late 1960s, museums were proceeding more cautiously. Across Canada, certain national institutions were mandated to collect and display contemporary Canadian photography, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Photography Service of the National Film Board. The former focused on what, at the time, was called art photography or creative photography, which involved image autonomy and specific production protocols. The latter, directly descended from the interventionist tradition promulgated by John Grierson, fell within the current of documentary photography that scrutinized the present. Thus, the Photography Service was seen less as the repository for a collection than as an active participant in production of the photographs exhibited at its Image Gallery in Ottawa (inaugurated in 1967) and published in a series of books on Canadian photography.
In Montreal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MACM) still favoured traditional forms of art and left room for multimedia works and photography only in thematic group exhibitions. One example at the MMFA was Montréal plus ou moins (1972), conceived by curator Melvin Charney as a vast multidisciplinary display bringing together photographs, all kinds of documents, and conceptual works to offer a critical gaze at the city. At the MACM, Périphéries, organized in 1974 by Alain Parent, gave an overview of the diversity of current production by the member artists at Véhicule Art. The intention of Normand Thériault, who curated Québec 75, was to go beyond a compendium of individual practices to offer a portrait of the energy of the art milieu building in Quebec. And we mustn’t forget Corridart, organized for the Montreal Olympic Games of 1976, which prominently featured photography in many of the installations deployed along Sherbrooke Street – and was censored by the municipal administration…
Translated by Käthe Roth
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