Photographic “tableaux”

[Summer 2004]

by Jacques Doyon

The optical devices, the renderings of light and perspectives, and the compositional modes inherited from the pictorial tradition form, even today, one of the foundations of our modes of representation, including for media based on the recording of the real and on digitization.

The search for artistic legitimacy has long favoured photographic practices imitating the pictorial tradition. However, since its beginnings, photography has renewed the modes of representation by its formal innovations, by a radical modernization of the content of the image, and by its realism. Today, in an era of reproducibility and generalized dissemination of images, photography still works within the canons of painting, but in modalities distanced from the aesthetic contemplation that ruled when pictorial manners and genres were established. The treatments are more playful and unexpected, more caustic and critical, as the works assembled for this issue show.

The series Chutes by Gwenaël Bélanger feature daily objects, chosen for their unusual nature, their texture, or their relationship with the space. They summon up different pictorial motifs and genres (still life, draping, perspective, abstraction, pop imagery, etc.), reinterpreted by the mechanisms of picture taking and montage proper to the photographic tradition. Bélanger’s “snapshots,” arranged in “chrono-photographic” series, are studies in movement playing on repetition and permutation. The object is inscribed within an account, held in suspension, of the broken and the forbidden or else it is literally pulverized into abstract fragments. Elsewhere, the representation is “worked by” the out of frame: the one, without preparation, of the studio or the one of the many contexts of the images making up the Polyèdres. Since, aside from the action of falling, the “fall” is also the unexpected end of a story, the rejection, the decline, and the ruin . . .

With Louis Joncas, the interest in still life and vanitas is clearly stated. For more than ten years, his Détritus series have constituted a diary, both intimate and generic, of life and death, in a society of over-consumption punctuated by excitement and depression. Joncas’s images constitute a striking updating of still life and vanitas. We find in it no reference to good taste and distinction, but, rather, a display of that which, beyond differences in social status, forms the everyday life of the contemporary individual: food, vitamin supplements, stimulants, sedatives, remedies, waste, decomposition, disease, death. In such a cycle, which alienates all of humanity, the lint and moss form a portrayal of the unformed, of dust, and of a new beginning of life . . .

Jason Salavon, a digital artist, contrasts the commercial and personal uses of photography with the commonplaces of pictorial modernity. Thus, he assembles souvenir photographs, pornographic images, and images of houses for sale by the hundred and transforms them into an impressionist imagery. The image, produced by the processes of accumulation, normalization, and merging, has the statistical qualities of an average. The result is the approximation of a class of images, the archetype of a mode of figuration. In other works, the dominant colours of each image of pop videos are translated into abstract geometric tableaux, and a self-portrait is transformed into a mapping of the artist’s body, with thousands of images presented in an abstract grid ordered according to gradations of tone. The image, photographic or videographic, is thus comprehended from the point of view of the quantity and repetitive nature of its structuring. It oscillates between cliché and evaporation in easily manipulated pixels – one of the outcomes of the exponential reproducibility of the image.