The challenge faced by theme-based biennials is to propose a conceptual framework that allows a great number and wide diversity of artworks to be brought together while providing an original viewpoint that positively inflects the reading of the works gathered. Rarely has Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal offered such a cohesive and powerful curatorial statement as in its 13th edition, Drone: The Automated Image. Curated by British photography historian and theorist Paul Wombell, previously the director of the Impressions Gallery in York (1986–94) and the Photographers’ Gallery in London (1994–2005), Drone featured the work of twenty-six artists and artist collectives displayed in fourteen exhibition sites, to which were added two film screenings. Several artist talks and round-table discussions were also part of the program, replacing the usual one-day academic conference and reflecting this edition’s emphasis on letting the artists speak for themselves.
The relationship between technology and agency was central to the theme of this edition. As Wombell explained in an interview with me conducted in September, he is interested in re-engaging with the history of photography from a perspective much broader and longer than its 175 years – a perspective that sees the camera as a momentous revolution within the millennia-long history of technology. His approach, furthermore, is based on the theories of object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, and new materialism, which together question the human-centric perspective of traditional Western philosophy. Translated to technology, and more specifically to the camera, such a point of view seeks to interrogate the degree to which cameras have agency beyond human involvement. As Wombell stated, “The camera has an extraordinary kind of life. It has its own space and way of working. We make it, but it also makes us.”
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Zoë Tousignant is a historian of photography and an independent curator working in Montreal. She is a recent graduate of the PhD program in art history at Concordia University. Her research interests centre on the dissemination of photographic culture, both historically and in the present.