[Winter 1997-1998]

by Franck Michel

As I was writing this editorial, I learned that Claude Thibeault, curator of the photography collection at the Musée du Québec, has lost his job. Four years ago, the Musée du Québec set up a collection dedicated exclusively to photography and appointed Mr. Thibeault to run it, showing its desire to make photography an important aspect of its collections.

But this was simply an illusion: less than four years later, the position of curator has been abolished and its functions will henceforth belong to the graphic-arts (drawings and prints) curator. It is incredible that one of the most important museums in Quebec could even dream of such a radical “restructuring.”

How can our museums treat photography, which has a preponderant role in contemporary and modern art, so lightly? Most often, photography is relegated to the department of drawings and prints. This is so at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and, once again, the Musée du Québec. At the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the problem is different: can one segregate contemporary art production by discipline (painting, sculpture, photography, video)? At MAC this seems to offer an excuse not to acquire Quebec photographs more systematically, even though Quebec photography has been alive and well since the seventies. Apparently, our museums have neither the desire nor the means of institutions such as the Canadian Centre for Architecture, whose photography collection I have praised before in these pages, and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, dedicated exclusively to photography, in Paris. Unfortunately, photography is not so well respected everywhere.

When I see the low regard that our institutions – and thus the Quebec department of culture – have for photography, I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed that our museums are so lazy, I’m ashamed that our museums are run by apathetic bureaucrats, I’m ashamed that the department of culture drags its feet and continually puts off application of a policy to all museums in the province (basic documents were presented almost two years ago by the Société des musées québécois). And it’s not only Quebec museums: The Canadian Museum of Photography would take up an article on its own.

All of this is very sad. And it’s even sadder because artists cannot fall back on galleries to sell their works, since, as we know, the photography market in Quebec seems to be nonexistent. So, photographers continue to struggle and to fill out their little Musée du Québec “artbank collection” forms hoping that the jury will like them and purchase one or two framed works (transport and packing not included) for a ridiculous sum. And photographs will continue to accumulate, quietly, in collections that are not made for them, with no long-term plan, and – most seriously – without the desire to build a Quebec photography heritage. This is a complex yet essential debate: we will certainly have an opportunity to revisit it soon.

In this issue of CVphoto, we continue with reflections on the notion of authenticity begun in issue 39. The question is posed through what we have called “the paradigm of the regard.” The three artists whose work appears here, Georges Rousse, Jocelyne Alloucherie, and Eugénie Schinkle, recreate, via the photographic regard, spaces that are deployed as possible landscapes or architectures, engaging the viewer’s regard to unveil a reality become fiction or, conversely, a fiction become reality. They disturb our perception of the real and, by this very fact (although it is not their main aim), question the value of the photographic document.

The French artist Georges Rousse, who was in Montreal this autumn (see interview with Marie-Josée Jean), is drawn to generally disused spaces, whose morphology he transforms either through a pictorial intervention or by constructing a new structure within the site, creating trompe-l’œil or anamorphosis effects, which he then photographs. With Rousse, use of the photograph is conventional: it documents and constitutes the final work. Thus, it is not his use that is confusing, but what we are given to see, since it is through the photographic lens and from a unique point of view that the intervention takes on meaning. This confusion arises mainly from the fact that the photographic image places the intervention and the pre-existing context in the same frame, which leads us to believe in the authenticity of the space we see. The photograph presents as authentic a place that no longer is so, proposing a subtle play on the frontiers of the real.

Jocelyne Alloucherie intervenes neither in the space, nor in the negative or the print. The photograph becomes fictional only through the choice of the point of view and the light of the ending day. She photographs, in black and white, silhouettes of backlit buildings, creating images on the verge of abstraction, in which the reference to the site of the point of view is blurred in shadow. Here, the photograph no longer describes, it recounts architectural fictions that become spaces of contemplation.

With Eugénie Schinkle, we also find a desire to create a fictional space, but in this case it is designed a posteriori – not through the choice of a point of view, or lighting, or site modification, but through various steps in the photographic process, through collage or the accumulation of many fragments of one or several landscapes in a single work. The landscape thus constructed becomes a new landscape, a landscape of the possible from many points of view.

To complete this issue, we asked Francine Dagenais, a Montreal art critic and theoretician, to reflect on the notion of authenticity. She writes of the alarming disappearance of authenticity and its eventual consequences, through an analysis of the works of contemporary artists and authors, for society and objects of consumption. This provocative text bears several readings and long thought.
Translation: Käthe Roth