Visual Literacy

by Jacques Doyon

The image bank is an archive structured by selection, indexing, and thematic cross-referencing procedures that determine how it is used. Artists appropriate this mechanism to explore the issues in visual culture and the contemporary future of the “virtual museum” prefigured by Malraux. They plead fundamentally for an attentive reading of images and full awareness of the historical legacy of visual culture.

The portfolios in this issue are devoted to the works of Peter Piller (Leipzig), George Legrady (a Canadian living in Santa Barbara, California), and Luis Jacob (Toronto). Piller has produced numerous series drawing on the thousands of archival images that he has assembled. We present three series of images showing the fate of unexploded bombs and police manhunts. In spite of the impact of their content, Cheryl Simon discusses their connection to the banal and stereotyped nature of the images that Piller likes to use to evoke the poverty of contemporary collective representations. Legrady’s two recent interactive works stress the structures underlying the composition of image banks and their collective and collaborative nature. Jean Gagnon’s analysis refers to Legrady’s longstanding interest in the links between the decontextualization of images and their being put into virtual circulation. Luis Jacob’s Albums propose a careful examination of the forms that shape our environment and our relationships with others. James Campbell shows how this interest in concrete forms that our relationship with the world takes, like all of Jacob’s multidisciplinary works, is inscribed in an intersubjective philosophy of community with strong utopian accents.

As a complement to these works, Vincent Bonin writes about the Image Bank collaborative network set up by Michael Morris and Vincent Trasov from Vancouver in the 1970s, which addressed such issues early on. Finally, in an interview, Angela Grauerholz talks about what motivated her to transpose the voluminous archives in the installation Reading Room for the Working Artist into a new Internet piece called Work + Play.

In this issue are also two essays about other institutional dimensions of the field of the image. Zoë Tousignant analyzes the questions raised by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec’s acquisition of Yves Beauregard’s major collection of historical photographs. Serge Allaire reports on the major exhibition offering an anthropological view of clothing and fashion photography curated by designer Christian Lacroix and presented this summer at the Rencontres d’Arles.

Once more, we hope that the content and presentation of this issue will both surprise and challenge you. On the drawing board, Ciel variable has many development projects aimed at increasing coverage of various aspects of the field of art photography and new media. Tell us what you think, and subscribe!
Translated by Käthe Roth