Robert Graham, Three Montréal Photographers + — Zoë Tousignant, Robert Graham’s History of Photography in Montreal

[Fall 2021]

By Zoë Tousignant

There are those of us who believe that what lies beyond the photographic frame is as interesting as what is contained within it. This is not founded on a sentiment that the photo­ graph alone is not enough. Quite the contrary: it comes from a place of such deep enthrallment with the photographic image that what surrounds that image, literally and concep­tually – the institutional frame, the maker’s point of view, the technological apparatus, the context of publication, the socio­cultural framework, and so on – is also deemed worthy of attention. Passionate embroilment, rather than disregard, is at the root of analyses that transcend the strict confines of the image.

Robert Graham has been writing passionately about what lies inside and outside the photographic frame for the past forty years. His reviews and essays have been published in periodicals such as Ciel variable, Parachute, RACAR, and Vanguard, as well as in catalogues and monographs produced by institutions that include Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, VOX, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, and AXENÉO7. A retrospective examination of Graham’s body of writing provides the ingredients for a kind of survey of the local evolution of photography theory and criticism over the past few decades, as well as revealing the particularity of his authorial voice, which is at once extremely erudite, thoroughly thoughtful, and a touch humorous.

In parallel to his critical practice, Graham has collected photographs, proving again that intellectual interest can readily commingle with a baser desire to possess. Parts of his private collection were recently made public in the exhib­ition Three Montréal Photographers +.1 Curated by Graham himself, the exhibition brought together fifty­-nine works – all drawn from his collection – most of them by Tom Gibson, Donigan Cumming, and Michel Campeau, photographers about whom he has previously written and with whom he has enjoyed longstanding bonds of friendship. Although displayed in separate sections of the gallery space, their photo­graphs were intended to dialogue, both with each other and with images by three other international photographers (symbolized in the title by the plus sign): Eadweard Muybridge, Miroslav Tichý, and Martin Parr.

As Graham explains in the accompanying catalogue’s essay, which offers a reflective overview of his academic back­ ground and approach as a critic, he has always been interested in the “parergonic,” or the “organizations and practices which surround and support artistic activity.”2 The concept of the parergon, elaborated most notably by Jacques Derrida in Truth in Painting (La vérité en peinture, 1978), refers to that which is beyond the strict contours of the work of art and has been thought (by Kant) to be a mere adjunct to the proper object of the judgment of taste.3


See the magazine for the complete article and more images: Ciel variable 118 – EXHIBITING PHOTOGRAPHY