Looking at Places

[Fall 2011]

Being attentive to the environments that one passes through. All these passageways, these enigmatic and inhospitable spaces: entrance halls, waiting rooms, and showrooms with incongruous décors, laboratory rooms with indecipherable functions. All these buildings that one sees on urban access roads, some of them abandoned, that compose a purely functional environment, with no regard for pedestrians. This, compared to the old city, with its sites shaped by time, proximity, a different pace of life…

Lynne Cohen is well known for her work on institutional and public places, which she photographs without their occupants, stressing the arrangement of décor and furniture. She is interested in places whose elements appear incongruous or enigmatic and whose function seems incomprehensible or unsuitable. There is often irony in her images, but the approach is fundamentally distanced and analytic. Decorated, arranged, sometimes simply structured by use, these places seem to be staged, even though Cohen photographs them as she finds them. They are generic spaces, with no specific identification. Their value is as recurrences, making a sort of informal typology of places of power or places that serve as a filter for public access.

Cohen has just received the newly created Scotiabank Photography Award, which includes a $50,000 bursary; it is well-deserved recognition for an important Canadian artist whose body of work has developed significantly over a forty-year period. Her transition to colour photography marks a new phase in her work, featured in her series of photographs of spas – places for conditioning the body. More recently, shots with a tighter focus, isolating certain elements, have conveyed her increased interest in places typical of common daily experience. The portfolio that we present in these pages looks mainly at this dimension.

Sylvie Readman also shows her interest in the engineering of our living spaces as she continues her investigation of the urban periphery. Her new series of large-format colour prints presents industrial and institutional buildings that dot the access routes to the city a bit like monuments to, or ruins of, functionalist architecture. Merging fixed and moving views, the images accentuate both the imposing nature of these buildings and their mismatch with the surrounding environment. They are like abstract elements placed in the landscape, designed as if not to be seen, as if in the process of disappearing. Readman complements the series with a video, the ambience of which is somewhat evocative of Antonioni films, showing pedestrian circulation in these areas of extra-human scale.

Ewa Monika Zebrowski’s images are also related to spaces and ways of life, but with poetic accents that contrast with the approaches of the above artists. Views of warm interiors in semi-shadow combined with panning photographs of façades of Venice taken from the water form a grouping that evokes a different era. In all of these images, mirrors, soft focus, colours, lights and décors speak of memory – of time lost, as the title notes: a different pace of life, a closeness to things that is less common today, but that remains an aspiration. In their way, these nostalgic images recall the tight overlapping of our spaces and ways of life. Translated by Käthe Roth

Jacques Doyon

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