The works in this issue’s thematic section are anchored in realities diametrically opposed to each other – the seal hunt, social marginality, and representation of women – and are from different times. These works nevertheless come together in their challenging of prejudices and dominant thought systems. In fact, each proposes to portray people in their living environments and to show who, in certain eras, did not have a place in society and therefore should not be seen.
For Yoanis Menge, this means changing the negative perception of the seal hunt on Îles de la Madeleine, Nunavut, and Newfoundland. To capture his close-up images, imposing panoramas, and intense blacks and whites, Menge became a hunter himself. This enabled him to take us to the drifting ice and the bridges and holds of the boats, and to immerse us in the heart of an activity that is a way of life for those living in the region. The high contrasts sublimate the red of the blood and bring out the difficulty of the work and the impressive force of the natural elements.
Recently, the Ontario Art Gallery presented an exhibition highlighting postwar American photographic and film practices that looked at marginalized ways of life and “subjects.” Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Nan Goldin, and several others made a significant contribution to challenging conventions in the order of photographic representation. Marginal ways of life, linked to sexuality, counterculture, drugs, and even madness gained social legitimacy and gradually formed the basis for alternative policies that radically transformed the majority culture.
With her “Belles de jour,” Marisa Portolese has for some years been exploring the issues in representation of women by playing on stereotypes and offering the image of a tranquil self-affirmation formed of interiority and sensuality. The most recent iteration of her series, based on a rereading of William Notman’s work, peels away the convention of portraits of women in the Victorian era. Portolese reuses the poses and some contexts and introduces small variations in the clothing and expressions in order to radically transform the self-image that the women project.
All of these portraits implement another way of apprehending things and different values. The modes of image making are not so much reinvented as deconstructed, distanced from a too-predictable composition that would “shape” the subject photographed. Here, the subject represented takes over: in the camera movement, the spontaneity of the shots, the details, and the natural poses. Everything comes together to challenge the ways we see.
Translated by Käthe Roth