[Spring 2001]

by Jacques Doyon

The photographs of gardens and landscapes presented here are not about looking at plants, flowers, and trees for themselves, in the sense of botanical documentation. Rather, they attempt to highlight what rules over the arrangement of or investment in such places and what is at play in our reading of these images of nature. A garden is a landscape, a landscape is a garden . . . both are shaped by the culture of those who create them, represent them, contemplate them.

Each of these works, in fact, creates a subtle distance from what we see at first glance: the beauty of the plants and their arrangements, their colours and textures, the familiar landscape. This distancing operates in a wide variety of modes. Scott McFarland’s luxuriant photographs, beyond their attractive surface, point to the many cultural and social issues underlying the existence of these sites: domestication of nature, private property, automation of their maintenance to the detriment of human labour, and the intricacies of the garden aesthetics and pictorial approaches. Christopher Brayshaw’s commentary exposes how the photographer oscillates between his interest in the plants, denoted by the titles of the photographs, and the more global point of view of the conceptualist who casts an analytic regard on the conditions of such a shaping of nature. With Michel Campeau, it is the very act of photographing that is seen: the shadows of the body cast on the ground, the postures needed for taking the pictures, even the blank sheets of paper and the mirrors in which light is recorded. Robert Graham shows what is at play, on the personal level, in this long photographic series (of which we show here only a few excerpts) in which the photographer once again begins to take pictures and re-establishes a direct grasp of the world. Robin Collyer’s photographs, made in tribute to a member of the McCain family, evoke the deceased only person in an implicit way: in the view that he would have had of these beloved and oft-visited landscapes. However, because of the generic nature of the landscapes, their banality, and the vague sense of familiarity that they provoke, it is our own regard and experience of similar sites that the photographs solicit. We actively stand in for what is presented as a lacuna, an absence. Catherine Grout’s text thus discusses the important role played by the interpretation and projection induced by such a series, constructed on the suggestion of a presence.

As an introduction, Luc Lévesque’s essay recalls the long relationship between photography and the garden. He argues against the obsolescence of these two art forms and for their renewed relevance in the context of the acceleration and dematerialization both of our lives and of the image. Attention to detail, and the perceptive mediation that it induces, should lead to a new relationship with the landscape, which renounces a unified point of view in order to proliferate as do rhizomes.

In addition, this issue contains Sylvain Campeau’s comments on Les paysages incertains, by Isabelle Hayeur, and Terrains vagues, published by Éditions J’ai vu. Finally, Anne Bénichou introduces us to Vera Greenwood’s unusual Hôtel Soficalle.

In closing, a word about Notman House, a heritage building and the home of the famous Montreal photographer William Notman whose impressive photographic archives are preserved at the McCord Museum which is under threat from a commercial construction project. The minister of culture should soon make a decision with regard to the validity of this development project. Consult the Web site for further information and to offer your support.