Approaches to sites

[Spring 2000]

by Jacques Doyon

The city, a constant subject of photography, distills all of the issues of society. It is both centre and periphery, a nucleus made of contradictory and hierarchical strata shooting out roots to invade an ever-broader territory.
In this issue, we find images that are concerned not so much with the density of the modern city as with some of its peripheral locations and dimensions. They look at the development of the city, the accumulated layers of its history, its incorporation into the landscape, and the various ways that it is inhabited. They are anchored in specific situations to portray more general realities, with a clear awareness of the issues and traditions of the image.

For Geoffrey James, The Lethbridge Project offered an opportunity to expand his research in cultural landscapes into the city. He is particularly interested in how people inhabit and settle in the landscape. Old houses and buildings, First Nations reservations, more recent structures, and other elements bear testimony to the various ways in which this rearrangement takes place. The edges of the city, where expanding suburbs are confronted with the immensity of the surrounding countryside, provide meaningful examples.

Nicole Jolicœur’s focus is on a certain disorientation and culture shock. During a working residency in the small French town of Annecy, she was inspired to measure the weight of history in the making and atmosphere of European urban culture. As always in Jolicœur’s work, the body defines reality. Petrified in stone or moulded in a fashion show, bodies move in differentiated times: from the permanence of historical memory to today’s ephemeral consumption society. This contrast is caught in fictional narrative and the montage of images evoking through fragments an urban culture transfigured by the omnipresence of the image.

Guy Lafontaine takes us back to the familiarity of Montreal, to inhospitable residential neighbourhoods near industrial zones, small factories, railway tracks, and highways. We recognize all of these unlikely spots, which we always look at with a certain surprise. They are portrayed without human presence, with a formal rigour in which the play of contrasting masses reinforces the sense of danger and potential nuisances.

Finally, Guy Sioui Durand’s article offers a glimpse at recent works by Ivan Binet and Jeffrey Thomas, which also deal with the city. Through digital manipulation, Binet creates vast panoramic views in which cities and nature sit side by side. Urban and industrial concentrations, tourism sites, forestry operations, and natural sites depict a civilization that propagates its model of urban organization throughout the landscape. Thomas acts as an archaeologist, seeking to trace what remains of the Native presence in the urban monuments of cities located on traditional Iroquois territories in a gesture of reappropriation and reinsertion in the collective urban memory.

All of these works presuppose that their creators have spent much time wandering through their subjects’ cities and areas in order to take in the history and atmosphere of these sites. With sensitivity seasoned by many years of experience, photographers survey spaces and project their questions into them, attentive to the images that come to them. It is in this spirit that I take on the challenge of the excellent work done by Franck Michel for this magazine, and will welcome all comments, points of view, and proposals that you would like to send to me at