Exhibiting Photography to Talk about Global Changes

[Fall 2021]

By Jacques Doyon

The thematic section in this issue presents three recent exhibitions that show how photography can actively contribute to shaping a vision of the world. The first, which features quantity and diversity of images, indicates how an accumulation of points of view and subjects addressed makes it possible to override the intrinsic limitations of the photograph’s framing and fixity to bring to light changes, rapid and global, to human civilization. The second, organized around the work of Jean Baudrillard, draws attention to the omnipresence of images in contemporary society in the form of an adaptable, invasive “total screen” that amplifies reality by making it virtual. The third narrates the journey of a critical reflection on the photographic image, drawing on encounters with artworks and photographers to build a vision of a photographic community.

In the ambitious show Civilization – The Way We Live Now, curators William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell set out to summarize the state of civilization on the basis of some two hundred works made by over a hundred photographers from five continents. The show gives a general overview of the great transformations now sweeping across the entire planet and integrating it as a whole. Eight thematic sections offer a comprehension of global vectors of accelerated transformation that make the fate of the great majority of human beings interdependent with and subjugated to a single technological rationality, a single civilizational aim. Through multiplied points of view and an accumulation of images, photography comes to illustrate the complexity of the world and its changes, despite the limitations of the frame and the fixity of the image.

Écran total, an academic research and exchange project organized by five curators, resulted in an exhibition, a symposium, and educational activities, with participants using the writings of Jean Baudrillard as a jumping­off point for consideration of the impact of the omnipresence of screens in contemporary life. The exhibition presented a series of recent multimedia works exploring the notion of the “total screen,” placed in opposition to photographs taken by Baudrillard. The photographs appeared to be of a more “traditional” nature, involving the senses and emotions, whereas the multimedia works overall took a more analytic and abstract turn, dwelling on Baudrillard’s later reflections on the “machine­like” aspect of the image­screen.

Three Montreal Photographers + is a unique exhibition put together by a photography critic, Robert Graham, from works from his personal collection to highlight the importance that encountering these works and the photographers who made them had on his vision and understanding of photography. Focusing on the work of three photographers who were significant players in shaping the Montreal photography scene (Tom Gibson, Donigan Cumming, and Michel Campeau), with a few works by selected international photographers in a supporting role, the exhibition accomplished the feat of offering an overview of the organic development of the local scene, thanks to Graham’s detailed commentary on the works, his own career, and the institutional developments of the time.

Translated by Käthe Roth