[Winter 1998-1999]

by Franck Michel

The second edition of the Salon Paris-Photo recently took place in France. Presented at the same time as the Mois de la Photo à Paris, this event involved more than eighty exhibitions from all over the world, especially Europe and North America.

Most of them were oriented toward sales and offered a selection of historical and contemporary works with a view to attracting potential purchasers. Thus, aside from some bolder French shows, such as Le réverbère 2 (Lyon) and Les Filles du Calvaire (Paris), the works presented were, on the whole, quite conventional and predictable. Nevertheless, due to its very scope, this event gave a good view of “mainstream” contemporary photography: Araki, Couturier, Goldin, Orozco, Serrano, Struth, and other luminaries consecrated by the art market.

Personally, I didn’t go there as a collector, but to make discoveries and take the pulse of “photography on the planet.” When I left this orgy of images (several thousand), I realized the extent to which we in Quebec are separated from what constitutes the peak of the international contemporary photography scene. When have we had an opportunity to see Thomas Struth’s or Nan Goldin’s work in Montreal? Never, in my memory. In other words, people who don’t get a chance to travel, read Art Press every month, or regularly peruse European exhibition catalogues have a knowledge of contemporary photography that is necessarily limited, with very few exceptions, to local production, which is quite energetic.

Of course, there is Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal; once every two years, it offers a vast selection of what’s being done in photography here and elsewhere. But it is ephemeral and occasional. Outside of this event, few galleries, exhibition centres, or museums provide a glimpse of artists whose approach is essential to an understanding of the stakes at play in contemporary photography. In Quebec, a number of people are doing remarkable work in this regard, particularly in artist-run centres, but they are sorely lacking funding. The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal has the wherewithal to present photography “stars,” but the will does not seem to be there. In the last few years, the only foreign photographer who has graced its walls is Andreas Serrano. In terms of group exhibitions, nothing. It leads one to believe that they haven’t yet realized, at the end of the twentieth century, that contemporary art is expressed above all through photography.

I’m far from thinking that Montreal should rival Paris and its dozens of galleries, two exhibition centres, and museum dedicated exclusively to photography: we don’t have the same population base, photography tradition, or political will. We don’t have an equivalent market. In fact, as has been explained in these pages recently, we have basically no market. This doesn’t help our cause, of course.

Maybe we must accept that whatever we do, Quebec will always be peripheral. However, I believe that Montreal could create a space favouring this type of exhibition, and that it is high time that the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal decompartmentalize its programming and become more open to the world. In the nineties, Quebec has been able to get its photographic production recognized and appreciated in the international contemporary-art scene. Now, it’s time for others to come here more often.
Translation Käthe Roth