By Michel Hardy-Vallée
When we try to reach a better understanding of the history of photography in Quebec, we inevitably stumble into three common areas. The ﬁrst is absence: so, where is this reference book that everyone’s waiting for and no one has written yet? And yet, there are books on the history in Quebec of gardens, epidemics, bookstore owners, karate, special effects, television, and urology, to name just a few. We must choke back a “Eureka!” when we attentively reread the titles of histories of photography in Quebec City, or histories in photographs of Quebec.
The second is, “But there’s Michel Lessard.” On the shelves of the arts library at the Université du Québec à Montréal are three copies of a volume titled Histoire de la photographie au Québec (if I were a medieval scribe, I would have been thrilled with such an abundance of copies).1 In it is a compendium of essays on a variety of photographic subjects in Quebec during different eras. Therefore, such a body of knowledge does well and truly exist, but we are still lacking a synthesis.2
And so, we land in the final common area. Continuing our research, we are quickly drowning in the abundance of writings: there is so much – magazine and newspaper articles, scholarly journals and books, exhibition catalogues, even items on television and in films – that the problem seems once again incommensurable, and we truly hope that someone will organize it all for us. Then, someone will surely say that it’s out of fashion to write a history of photography.
So why are there so many general and national histories of the photobook? Where does this need to understand the photobook historically come from?3
Because I believe that writing the history of photography in Quebec is on the order of how rather than is there, I’d like to propose here some thoughts on the major scope of the problem – let’s say, the specifications for an eventual call for bids, to take a bureaucratic metaphor – because, after all, history is a public asset, both substantively and qualitatively speaking…
Translated by Käthe Roth
2 This remark may seem contemporary, but the source is actually Raymond Corriveau, “L’histoire de la photographie: le parcours obligatoire de la méthode,” master’s thesis, McGill University, 1982, 146.
3 Peter Pfrunder and Martin Gasser (eds.), Swiss Photobooks from 1927 to the Present: A Different History of Photography (Baden: Müller, 2012); Horacio Fernández, The Latin American Photobook (New York: Aperture, 2011); Frits Gierstberg and Rik Suermondt, The Dutch Photobook: A Thematic Selection from 1945 Onwards (New York: Aperture, 2012); Ryuichi Kaneko et al., Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s (New York: Aperture, 2009); Mikhail Karasik and Manfred Heiting, The Soviet Photobook 1920–1941 (Göttingen: Steidl, 2015); Martin Parrand Gerry Badger, The Photobook: A History, 3 vols. (New York: Phaidon, 2004–14).
[ Complete issue, in print and digital version, available here: Ciel variable 120 – FIGURES OF AFFIRMATION ]
[ Complete article and more images, in digital version, available here: Prospectus for a Future History of Quebec Photography — Michel Hardy-Vallée ]