The Post-Photographic Condition. Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal

In Featured Events / September 16, 2015

On September 10, 2015, the 14th edition of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal (MPM) has opened its program. For this edition, renowned Catalan curator, photographer and theoretician Joan Fontcuberta was invited to develop an exhibition program around the theme The Post-Photographic Condition. From September 10 to October 11, 2015, MPM will feature the works of 29 artists from 11 countries in 16 exhibition sites in Montréal, including the world premiere of eight artworks created specifically for this Biennial. The rigorously curated and provocative exhibition program explores what Fontcuberta considers a new era of visual culture: the age of the post-photographic. This, as the curator explains, is an age characterised by the massification of images and by their circulation and availability online. Digital technology provokes ontological fractures in photography but, in doing so, it also engenders profound changes in its social and functional values, as images occupy completely different roles in our lives.

The biennial is already at the forefront of current investigations on contemporary still and moving images, showcasing both established and emerging Canadian and international artists. For one month, Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal will transform the Parisian Laundry into its headquarters as well as a meeting point for exchanges through an extensive program of events. MPM has partnered with major exhibition venues, such as museums, university galleries, and art centres to showcase its strong and diverse program and strengthen the biennial’s broad scope of collaborating with influential institutional players while extending its experimental approach towards new practices in photography and video art. “I invite you to experience a timely, cutting-edge, and exciting biennial of international scope, appreciate the artworks of a group of talented artists working on similar preoccupations in vastly distinctive ways, and discover many known artists never before shown in North America,” says Katia Meir, Executive Director of La Mois de la Photo à Montréal. The invited artists stress the complexities of the post-photographic condition through their use of photographs and video, as they accumulate, re-contextualise, impose order, manipulate, and transform images. Fontcuberta explains the rationale behind his selection and concept by stating that “The Post-Photographic Condition is characterised by the proliferation of images and the prominence of the Internet, smartphones and social networks. The world as we know it is now governed by instantaneity and subject to accelerated digital globalisation. Every facet of our lives, from personal relationships to economics, communications to politics, has been shaken to its core by this manipulation. For the first time, we are producers and consumers of images on an exponential scale. The outcome of this unprecedented excess is the immediate access to images. It remains to be seen to what extent this instant availability and universal voyeurism are both a privilege and an obstacle.”

The post-photographic condition defines a culture of ubiquity that raises numerous questions on the status of the photograph as a digital object. The implications are to be understood well beyond the conceptual framing of the photograph, at the deeply converging divergences of technologies, politics, economies, institutions and social policies that organise the medium and the socii. While photography has always been the result of the hybrid technologies of a given age, the passage from what the lens “see” to what the screen displays needs to be discussed in different terms, marking an irreversible change of principles and metaphors such as optics, focus, perspective, capturing, and mechanical registering and their transformation into digital pixels, simulations, and imitations. Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal explores how the “photograph” becomes and idea and an image category within the new set of circumstances that is radically transforming the contemporary image and redefining the art experience. Visitors are given the opportunity to investigate the expanded field of photography today and to probe the significant space images occupy in our lives.

“We are at a crucial moment in the history of images,” says Joan Fontcuberta in the exhibition guide.“The proliferation of cameras and digital point-and-shoot devices, the incorporation of picture taking into cell phones, the Internet, social networks, new surveillance technologies, the development of virtual reality devices – all this and more is configuring a second digital revolution in which the identity of photography must be rethought. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, eBay and Blurb have become tools for experimentation and new creative processes. Today, how can we define photographic quality? Is it possible to identify the photographic canon arising from these new vernacular spaces of the image?” In his curatorial gesture, Fontcuberta proposes a scenario that offers glimpses into the possible future of the post-photographic condition, which the curator has kindly agreed to discuss in an exclusive interview taken short before the opening of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal.

Joan Fontcuberta, guest curator of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal 2015, The Post-Photographic Condition. Portrait © Joan Maria Dias, 2014. Used here by kind permission from Joan Fontcuberta. All rights reserved.
Joan Fontcuberta, guest curator of Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal 2015, The Post-Photographic Condition. Portrait © Joan Maria Dias, 2014. Used here by kind permission from Joan Fontcuberta. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: I would start by asking you about the notion of the ‘post-photographic’ today – how are we to understand it, several decades after the notion first appeared, and why is it relevant to re-appropriate this idea? The notion continues to be discussed in relation to our understanding of the photographic medium as such, yet it remains increasingly alienated from reality or an education of the gaze. To paraphrase William J. Mitchell’s seminal work on the post-photograhic, I would say that the ‘reconfigured eye’ did not necessarily entangle a ‘reconfigured consciousness’ or a ‘reconfigured thought.’ In this respect, I would say that the photographic and the post-photographic continue to be discussed in terms of their inter-related economies rather than in terms of thought, intuition or consciousness.

Joan Fontcuberta: I am actually trying to answer this very question in the introductory essay of the book we have published for the occasion of the Mois de la Photo Biennale. The term ‘post-photographic’ has not been very fortunate. As far as I know, the first person who used it was the Montréal-based artist and theorist David Tomas in a text from 1988. Since then, the term has been used with different nuances, the most frequent refers to it almost as a synonym of the concept of ‘digital photography’ and puts emphasis in the new technological aspect, and in the ontological consequences deriving from it. Mitchell for instance highlighted that the digital nature of the image challenged the essential qualities of analogue photography: its evidential nature, and the identification as a form of visual truth. All of this was obvious in 1992, when The Reconfigured Eye first appeared, however, two decades have passed during which we have witnessed unimaginable changes. With the current perspectives in analysis that exist today, we can reaffirm that there have been more victims than the visual truth. In my essay, I explain how we are not witnessing the invention of a new medium but the “de–invention” of a culture. If photography was a writing, post-photography is a language. A language we have started using across all aspects of our lives, therefore constituting a new kind of awareness I find this aspect the most determining factor: post-photography forces a reflexion on the meaning of our current social and political condition.

Sabin Bors: How do the artists and the works you selected reflect on the idea of the ‘post-photographic’? Could you please detail your view on the works and the rationale behind your curatorial selection?

Joan Fontcuberta: Artists do their jobs aside from any categorisations. It is curators and history who label artists with more or less chance of success. My criteria for selecting the works has been to choose projects that eloquently speak about certain defining questions of post-photography, respecting the rules of the game stated by Mois de la Photo: limitation to a certain number of artists, half of which shall be Canadian, and shouldn’t have exhibited in Montréal in the past years. I explain the reasons why I have selected each artist in the introductory texts of each project, and I have tried to offer a wide range of approaches. For instance, the installation by collective named After Faceb00k speaks about a virtual soul that lives in the Internet beyond our death, bringing us closer to a new kind of immortality. In the case of MissPixels, the landscape is used as an excuse to show how the logocentric culture is losing its authority in the Internet world: if reality can be considered a consequence or result of search engines – because Google nowadays is fulfilling a metaphysical mandate as reality certifier- what will happen when the searches are performed on images instead of words? Artists Grégory Chatonsky and Dominique Sirois have realised that mental and digital images are very similar and the artists speculate with the possibility of projecting visual configurations of our dreams.

Sabin Bors: And how to do you expect the audience to be activated by the works and the events taking place during Le Mois de la Photo?

Joan Fontcuberta: The world of art doesn’t interest me as much as daily life. Hence, I am trying to highlight those areas of work in which the public can identify with easily, excluding self-referential artistic practices that only interest to artists themselves. For instance, conversational photography dominates today: we use photographs to communicate spontaneously with others. The transit from one-photo-to-keep towards a disposable-photo is affecting everyone of us: the public feel involved in projects based on this question because it is also part of their own experience. The same could be said of the transition from family photo albums to personal experiences stored in social media, and many other related topics. Most of the projects I have gathered together will captivate the spectator’s attention because of their familiarity but will also critically destabilise their conventions and prejudices.

Leandro Berra, Mathieu A., 2005. From the series Autoportraits robots (2005). Inkjet print on satin paper, 50 x 75 cm. Courtesy of the artist and galerie UNIVER / Colette Colla, Paris © Leandro Berra. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Leandro Berra, Mathieu A., 2005. From the series Autoportraits robots (2005). Inkjet print on satin paper, 50 x 75 cm. Courtesy of the artist and galerie UNIVER / Colette Colla, Paris © Leandro Berra. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: In discussing the post-photographic condition, you make mention of a ‘second digital revolution.’ Could you please detail on this idea and the way you think this will affect our way of negotiating ‘image,’ ‘image-making’ and ‘reality’ in the near future?

Joan Fontcuberta: Concerning the image, a first digital revolution occurred in the 90’s with the introduction of digital cameras, the widespread use of scanners, and retouching programmes, of which Photoshop ended up being their paradigm. In this first phase, we were interested in how technological changes facilitated a new ontology of photography which was subject to the new possibilities of intervention over the image and to the immateriality of the digital photograph. A decade after, there was a turning point. The fundamental thing then was how the technological changes facilitated the circulation and dissemination of images. The focus then is not so much on the ontology but on the sociology and anthropology of photography. The ubiquity of the cameras, cell phones, new Internet portals and social media have influenced not the nature of the images but our relationship with them, and the role they play in our lives. I like to say that we live in the image, and as such, we should learn to survive this life within the images. That educational responsibility is what I’d think the role of art should be. Therefore, images play a fundamental political role: they fuse with reality, they are our new instrument to apprehend reality, to manage our model of the real. To make images is to make reality.

Sabin Bors: You used the expression “epidemic of images” in one of the exhibition descriptions. Is it possible to conceive something that will counter this massification and intensification, the virulency of these endemic manifestations – something that could function as a derailment, off the premodern / modernising course that seems to define current artistic and societal developments?

Joan Fontcuberta: Idolatry has been overlapped with iconocracy. Submission to the symbolic value of images has been complemented with a form of governance whose powers enhance its imaginary through the photographic image. The current situation has socialised visual culture at the expense of trivialising it and subordinating it to the laws of consumption. Hypervisibility, does it improve transparency or otherwise leads us to blindness? It is difficult to discern this ambivalence because we observe it from its core. In fact, it is a debate that we can extrapolate to the Internet as the great global container. The Internet deregulates languages, which are no longer specialist’s domain. Today everyone is a photographer, everyone is a filmmaker, everyone is a musician, everyone is a writer…. Digital technologies and the Internet facilitate creativity but also trivialise it. Does this new culture democratised online facilitate the production of better works of arts, better cinema, and better literature? Or, in the contrary: does the talent get drowned in the vast ocean of mass culture? do we evolve towards a democratic culture or towards mediocrity? There are pessimist voices, like Andrew Keen, who afirms that “when everything is determined by the number of ‘clicks’ the solidity and excellence of any artistic project erodes.” But perhaps we should contradict him cautiously but more positively: what happens is that the Internet is ruled by different canons that we need to identify. However, the most innovative ideas, the ones that will help us understand our time and to face the challenges of the future, find a more suitable space on the Internet rather than in contemporary art institutions, which gradually become mere containers of aesthetic goods.

Sabin Bors: One of my main concerns regards the case of what has been called ‘post-photojournalism,’ an intrinsically problematic notion that refers to the fabrication of reality as another, supposably more powerful, way to document reality. I sometimes find this to be an ‘excuse’ rather than an ‘argument,’ allowing one to avoid direct contact and search for mediation or intermediation, and therefore avoid taking responsibility for reality ‘as it is.’ Any such fabrication needs to be political, ideological and responsible in many regards. How should we address the delicate question of who exactly is it that fabricates reality, in virtue of what logics, economies or considerations, guided by what principles and to what ends?

Joan Fontcuberta: According to Marxism the one thing that creates reality is power. But because of this is obvious, what should worry us is to understand what type of power and which reality we are talking about. With relation to the decline of the documentary genre, post-photography may be a form of revitalisation. It is not about giving up previous methodologies, but implementing them using new tools that are now available to us. For example, Google Street View, satellite photography, surveillance cameras, etc. offer us resources we did not have before. It is important to understand that they don’t replace existing resources but add to them. On the other hand, it is equally important to realise that today there is a life that exists on the screen which can be as decisive as life in the tangible world, and it must also be documented. If part of our activity takes place on the screen, how can we ignore it? An example of this within the “The post- photographic condition” programme is the project Thinspiration by Laia Abril. The artist focuses on documenting eating disorders, and in this case she addresses anorexia, the paradox of teenagers who decide to build their identity by destroying their bodies. Abril does not photograph these girls directly, but takes photographs of the computer screen when their self-portraits are being uploaded to Facebook or personal blogs. By re-shooting these images, they are shown and purged at the same time.

Isabelle Le Minh, Tous décavés, 2015. Portraits soufflés, After Alphonse Bertillon (detail), 2015. Photographic installation. Inkjet print. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Christophe Gaillard, Paris © Isabelle Le Minh. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Isabelle Le Minh, Tous décavés, 2015. Portraits soufflés, After Alphonse Bertillon (detail), 2015. Photographic installation. Inkjet print. Variable dimensions. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Christophe Gaillard, Paris © Isabelle Le Minh. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

Sabin Bors: My last three questions concern the “scenario” you proposed as part of your curatorial approach, namely the four ‘challenges’ we face today. First – challenging the document, that is, the need to address an ontology of digital photography in the age of ‘homo photographicus.’ Second – challenging art itself, given the rise of anti-artistic practices as well as the massification and ‘visual ecology’ as caused by the oversaturation of images. Could you please detail on what exactly do you refer to when mentioning “anti-artistic practices” in this context? I would be interested to find out how such challenges can be met, especially in what regards art and artistic practices, and the idea of a re-ontologisation.

Joan Fontcuberta: We tend to confuse art with the art market. What we commonly understand as ‘art’ has become a cultural genre aimed at the production of artistic goods, and which is ruled by the laws of the market and the entertainment industry. There is another realm of creation that does not get the attention of the flashing lights , neither walks down the red carpet, but which in fact aims to fight against the laws of the market and the cultural industry, while reinventing itself as art. It is an activity which lies outside the museums and biennials, an anti-art understood as a laboratory of ideas. We would then have on the one hand the production of ideas and on the other hand the art establishment that deals with the spread and establishment of the canon. The value attributed to the work of art, both for its social appreciation and economic quotation, will depend on the canon. With regards to photography, I’d say photography made by “professionals” is boring, photography made by “artists” is pathetic, our only hope is post-photography made by anti-artists.

Sabin Bors: When challenging the canon, you mention the value of circulation and the value of the content of images, but also the idea of search engines as creative tools. I find this to be problematic because still connected to a neoliberalist perspective and a capitalist ideology that: (a) circulates the idea of value in close connection with its economic mechanisms; and (b) replicates the ideology from the inside…

Joan Fontcuberta: I argue that in today’s images dissemination prevails over content. In other words value is given by management and not by intrinsic qualities. This is a typically post-photographic phenomenon: images do not matter by themselves but to the extent in which they are interconnected within certain contexts. There are no good or bad pictures, there are good or bad uses of the images. Thus the canon does not derive from a given hierarchical system but a system of popular and democratic participation. Expressed without nuances, this affirmation may be branded as naive, I acknowledge it and I also acknowledge its contradictions and risks. Search engines and therefore the algorithms that feed them, are critical forms of power in today’s economy of knowledge and culture, and they also contribute to creating reality. In the 19th century, to validate the real we used the camera: what appeared in a photograph was something that was in front of the lens and its existence was beyond question. Today we do not use the camera, we use Google, we search the web, and depending on the result we define the existence or nonexistence of something. Search engines then acquire a metaphysical and demiurgic role because we rely on them to certify reality. Google, a corporation which aims to earn profits, is more powerful than many states today.

Sabin Bors: By challenging the author you seek to address what you called an “aesthetics of access” and the role of “the artist as prescriber.” The idea to challenge the author is a rather ‘postmodernist’ one and I am curious as to how exactly do you understand it, especially in relation to what you call a “crisis in the spaces where the image ‘lives:’ museums, exhibitions, books, Web pages.” On the one hand, I fear this crisis only replicates and consolidates institutional or economic powers – ideally, it could be seen as a transformation, but the implications of this exceed the frame of our conversation. On the other hand, keeping the ideal tone, isn’t it possible to think of this crisis as a much needed crisis precisely because it could inspire us to dismantle the ‘institution’ of space, if I may call it like this?

Joan Fontcuberta: In the introductory essay of the book I mentioned previously, which has been published for the occasion of the Biennale, I point some possible answers to those questions. I do not refer to the “death of the author” that Barthes advocated, but to a new situation in which the author does not disappear but is camouflaged. If we align ourselves with the parameters of the so called “digital humanism,” to review the notion of author implies influencing the idea of the subject. To summarise: the supersaturation of images makes creation no longer equal to the fabrication of works but to giving them a meaning. This occurs through an act of selection for which intent is required. In order to have intention one must have willingness. For will to exist, one must be conscious. And for consciousness to exist, we need the human condition. Deep down, what we are discussing here is the scope of the ‘human being’, not only against theorists such as the singularity theory but the ‘human’ as a natural, cultural and social factor. In relation to the institutional spaces for photography, I prefer to name them as “rooms” for photography. The ‘room’ allows the image to develop a specific life, and the interesting thing is how the crisis of the established spaces stimulates the projection of new architectures. As if electronic images could have the same qualities as mental images, I think we’re just at the beginning of a huge shift in visual communication. Research from advanced neurophysiological laboratories focused on projecting figurative images as if they were figurative images occurring in our brains, provides us with clues about a dystopian future. This is as exciting as frightening at the same time. We must prepare ourselves for a phase that is yet to come.

[The interview with Joan Fontcuberta was translated by Carmen Salas and Estela Oliva from Alpha-ville, whom I’d like to thank for the support – Sabin Bors] 

Paul Wong, Year of Gif, 2013 (Video still). 5 min, loop. Courtesy of the artist © Paul Wong. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Paul Wong, Year of Gif, 2013 (Video still). 5 min, loop. Courtesy of the artist © Paul Wong. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

What The Post-Photographic Condition exhibition at Le Mois de la Photo shows is that the re-thinking of the photographic is more than ever linked to socio-cultural, political, technological, and economical conditionings. In thinking the new nature of the photographic, aesthetics and economies will harness mutated ideologies and discursive regimes that need to account for the programmatic visibilities communicating multitudes of univocal messages rather than plurivocal expressions. What Fontcuberta’s exhibition shows is that artistic gestures continue to distract and interfere with the logics of imagery and the proliferation of operations of incorporation associated with such logics. Through the ‘new’ photographic ‘trash’ of pixelated images, noise effects, granulations and glitches, and the passage to a period defined by the ‘found imagery’ of digital poverism, [I discuss the idea of Digital Povera and the post-photographic in an upcoming publication] artists search for experimental approaches to images, representations, their current and historical legacies, while also questioning the increased technologisation of life. Many of these gestures can be found on the Internet, a laboratory for image-making experimentation, as Fontcuberta calls it, which nevertheless brings up critical questions regarding the ‘aesthetic’ and ‘ideological’ fabric of these works. What has recently been labeled as ‘Post-Internet Art’ is an example of how the critical spirit of modernity can fall back into self-replicating forms of art that remain vague and imprecise, hollow and disorienting – and ‘evasionist’ altogether. In a 2014 article published by Art In America and titled “The Perils of Post-Internet Art,” Brian Droitcour has but too clearly described the ways in which ‘Post-Internet Art’ is “boring to be around” and should be seen as “an assemblage of some sort” where “nothing is well made except for the mass-market products in it.” Is it then possible to experiment with image-making, outside and on the Internet, so as to reclaim: (a) a ‘community space’ that can reach the depth of the vast repository of information that the Internet is (its “Deep Web,” “Dark Web,” “Deep Net,” “Hidden Web” or “Invisible Web” as it has been called) and reconnoitre the unthinkable possibilities to make use of information; and (b) an artistic or art-related practice that can actually educate one to discern, to educate the gaze ‘aesthetically,’ that is, in the key of thinking? Joan Fontcuberta’s Post-Photographic Condition might provide a few interesting leads for the current state of matters.

Brief notes on the artists included in The Post-Photographic Condition

In her first solo exhibition presented in Canada, Patricia Piccinini investigates the ‘theatre’ of the living and the artificial by conjuring up new species whose role is to protect endangered creatures and, ultimately, to question our future as humans. A sense of fascination and horror of the monstrous or the abject installed unaffectedly in our life infuses Piccinini’s photographs to raise questions on post-humanity and technologised barbarism, in a gesture that reminds us how the living increasingly pushes the boundaries of nature to cause irreversible mutations. Mutations of the body can also be seen in Thinspiration, an ongoing project initiated in 2011 by Spanish artist Laia Abril, who documents eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, to analyse the tyranny of politics of the image and social pressures on the appearance of adolescents and adults. Reflecting on the anorexic community’s blogs, where teenagers share selfies showing off their emaciated bodies, Abril’s intention is to question whether photographs can help us develop a greater awareness of reality or whether the camera has just become the most ubiquitous tool and instrumental stratagem for controlling the body and replicating distortions of the self-image. As Abril explains, “I decided to look for an answer by retaking their self-portraits with the intention of establishing a conversation between their camera and mine… […] They pose provocatively, narcissistically. The images that I captured are the visual response to the link between obsession and self-destruction.”

Patricia Piccinini, Domain, 2005. From the series Nature’s Little Helpers, 2005. Digital C-Type photograph, 80 x 160 cm. Edition 3 of 6. Courtesy of the artist © Patricia Piccinini. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Patricia Piccinini, Domain, 2005. From the series Nature’s Little Helpers, 2005. Digital C-Type photograph, 80 x 160 cm. Edition 3 of 6. Courtesy of the artist © Patricia Piccinini. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

Berlin-based artist Joachim Schmid presents his series Other People’s Photographs, a set of 96 self-published books, each of which contains a selection of photographs found on the Internet and classified according to specific yet nonsensical criteria. With the advent of the digital age, Schmid has shifted his practice from the recycling of vernacular photographs in the early 1980s to an Internet-based investigation into the future of photography at the turn of globalised cultures. In an ironic reference to classificatory methodologies employed by historians, museums, and archival collections, Schmid re-orders the images and re-traces the narrative history of images. Sean Snyder’s Algorithmic Archaeology explores both the fundamental recognition of the raw materials of visual information such as ink paper, celluloid, magnetic tape, algorithms and pixels. By investigating the ‘anti-artistic’ domain of research-based art, Snyder reveals not only the pre-conditionings of the image and their associate rhetorics of persuasion as propagandistic distorted constructions but, more importantly, the instrumental complicity of images and power: when power instrumentalises the image and image is the manifestation of power.

Le Mois de la Photo hosts the international premiere of Dutch artist Hans Eijkelboom’s The Street and Modern Life, containing hundreds of street snapshots of passers-by in the public spaces in Birmingham who share identical gestures, clothing or other objects. Organised according to the “cascading sequence” concept, where narrative or discursive continuity is ensured by the repetition of specific elements linking images between them, the project expands Eijkelboom’s richly ironic body of conceptual work stretching back to the ‘70s that takes as subject the evolution and dynamics of crowds and individuals in urban globalised societies. Eijkelboom’s work is critical political caricature that speaks of how illusions of apparent freedom have only turned citizens into consumers, replicating all the norms and dictates of socio-cultural industries.

Canadian artist Roy Arden takes inspiration in Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation to questions aesthetic experiences in post-photography. An austere slide show displaying the succession of more than twenty-eight thousand images found on the Internet unrolls for more than an hour and a half to evoke a sense of arbitrariness and subvert the archivistic logics of encyclopaedic knowledge. The work finds a curious echo in Christopher Baker’s Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise, a video installation we’ve published three years ago on anti-utopias. The thousands of video diaries collected from the Internet that make what has been called a “post-photographic altarpiece” immerse the viewer into a vocal and narrative cacophony that embars any sense of empathy. A graphic designer, advertising manager, editor, collector, exhibition curator, and artist, Erik Kessels presents the installation All Yours, which was specially conceived for Le Mois de la Photo. Paying close attention to the most popular or trivial forms of photography, from family albums and pornography ads to commercial documentation, Kessels recycles cast-off visual material and lays emphasis on the massively overlookedimages taken for practical purposes, which embody the photographic ‘trash.’ Ironic and subtle, Canadian group After Faceb00k’s project In Loving Memory <3 questions the after-life of our identities after our bodies have ceased living, in a parable of “virtual souls” and digital media that serves not only to question our collections on social media and the data traces we store on servers after we die but, more importantly, to discuss the often neglected issue of grief in the virtual world. The ironic simulation of cemeteries, with funerary monuments replaced by mega-servers storing detailed information about ourselves, leaves us with the the only option to survive – as constantly updated and updating residua.

Jacques Pugin, The knights of the devil #42. From the series The knights of the devil, 2009–13. DESTROYED VILLAGE: Damage Summary as of May, 2009 / Location: MITERBA AHMED OSM. Status: DESTROYED. Structures Destroyed: 25 of 25. Year Attacked: 2007. Inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, 69 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, Paris © Jacques Pugin. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Jacques Pugin, The knights of the devil #42. From the series The knights of the devil, 2009–13. DESTROYED VILLAGE: Damage Summary as of May, 2009 / Location: MITERBA AHMED OSM. Status: DESTROYED. Structures Destroyed: 25 of 25. Year Attacked: 2007. Inkjet print on Hahnemühle paper, 69 x 120 cm. Courtesy of Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, Paris © Jacques Pugin. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

Conceived specifically for Le Mois de la Photo, Dominique Blain’s Emergence is a video installation that takes as its starting point Michel de Montaigne’s quote, that “Emergence is a matter of bringing to consciousness.” This has inspired Blain to create a slow-motion that expands time and dislocates perceptions. Long before the digital age, Blain’s work had focused on the post-photographic and considered the accessibility of images, the ease of producing and reproducing images, and the dangerous liaison between quality and the political capital of the document. Blain’s artistic practice relies on negotiating histories and images, socio-political tensions and traumas, as if highlighting the traumatic imprint of the image and the traumatic economy of its circulation. It is a traumatic economy in Leandro Berra’s work too – but his Autoportraits Robots use the Faces program of the Gendarmerie scientifique in Paris to reclaim the face, identity and memory of friends who have ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship in Argentina. The program reconstructs faces through the Photokit/Identikit process together with computer-optimised combinatory techniques inspired by Alphonse Bertillon’s atlas of physiognomy. Volunteer participants were asked to produce a self-portrait without the aid of a mirror or photograph of themselves; the resulting “virtual” image was then juxtaposed with the standard ID portraits and assembled as diptychs inviting to reflection on the philosophical and psychological morphologies of memory and identity. A semiotic morphology takes place in Mémoires, Roberto Pellegrinuzzi’s premiering work at Le Mois de la Photo, which plays around the paradoxes of the photographic mechanism and the sign. One could equally see in Pellegrinuzzi a photographer using semiotics or a semiotician using a camera, as his conceptual reflections raise questions on whether it is truly us who produce images or the images produce us. Resembling a nebula, his installation invites viewers to immerse into a universe comprising more than a quarter of a million photographs the artist took compulsively for one year, until the sensitive area of the camera’s sensor stopped working.

French artist Isabelle Le Minh references the history of visual culture in her 2015 work Tous décavés in which she develops the subject of identification techniques, from the physiognomic atlases and fingerprint files of the 19th century to current facial-recognition systems. Inspired by Bertillon, the inventor of forensic anthropometry, Le Minh questions the traces we leave every time we visit a website or operate a touching screen while also providing a cynical critique of post-9/11 obsessions with security and the creation of biometric data banks. In her Fractured Landscapes, Miss Pixels (Isabelle Gagné) explores the uncertainties around contemporary thinking of landscapes as reduced to aesthetic perceptions of a territory. Works such as Retweet (2014) or Visually Similar Images (started in 2014) are based on data accumulation and cross-translation that reveal the tensions underlining the metaphorical conversion of landscapes. Using Google’s reverse image search resource, which allows one to search using a sample image the search engine analyses pixel by pixel in order to find images with similar pixel structures, MissPixels takes Google’s algorithms to interpret landscapes from Quebec’s administrative regions and match them with other locations in the world, challenging the very essence of nature in her dislocated collages.

Hans Eijkelboom, The Street and Modern Life, 2015. Photographic installation. Birmingham U.K. (July 2013 - September 2014). This work was commissioned by Multistory. Courtesy of the artist © Hans Eijkelboom. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Hans Eijkelboom, The Street and Modern Life, 2015. Photographic installation. Birmingham U.K. (July 2013 - September 2014). This work was commissioned by Multistory. Courtesy of the artist © Hans Eijkelboom. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Divine Violence, 2013.
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin, Divine Violence, 2013. "Revelations." Digital print on Hahnemühle paper, brass pins, 78 x 78 cm. Courtesy of the artists © Broomberg & Chanarin. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

In The Knights of the Devil, Jacques Pugin works with images downloaded from the Internet instead of taking his own photographs; his use of satellite camera documentations around the ravages of the militia after burning down the villages during the civil war in Darfur, which has made it quite difficult for reporters to get into Sudan, sheds light on this barbarism by creating visual negatives. The artist deletes the colours from Google Earth images and inverts them so as to symbolise the fundamentally negative nature of the savagery documented by the images. Andreas Rutkauskas’s Virtually There is also based on Google Earth and questions the role of the explorers in the age of Google Maps. The artist had virtually “crossed” the Rockies from his studio, assembling topographical maps and GPS data of various routes, as well as selected views of particular patches of mountain; he then travelled to these locations to take conventional photographs and compare them with the virtual views. In doing so, Rutkauskas is observant of how the ontology of representation has been altered, bearing numerous implications on our sense of experience and knowledge.

Canadian artist Liam Maloney’s Texting Syria investigates how communication and picture-taking via smartphones have generated new social form of “grassroot participation” and political activism. Mobilisations during the Arab Spring and the Ushahidi platform made it possible to map out vital information in areas experiencing disasters or conflicts. Highlighting the more personal and emotional side of stories, Maloney focuses his attention on people who keep in touch with loved ones from whom they have been separated by war. Exploring the struggles of Syrian refugees, Texting Syria is an installation that shows how the multi-faceted nature of connectivity in the digital age can also bring people together and enable contact and emotional safety. German artist Simon Menner questions the archives as a bastion of power in Top Secret. The Stasi Archives, a project that continues Menner’s interest in observation, surveillance, and camouflage. Unremarkable in their appearance, the images Menner found in the archives of the secret police of communist East Germany present hilarious or dreadful situations that trigger different reactions from the spectator. Whether training materials for spies, documents on covert searches, recording various placements and arrangements, or proofs of the agents’ transvestism and disguises, the images draw the narrative of parallel micro-histories and prove once again that history is written through the ordinary.

Christina Battle’s The People in This Picture Are Standing on All that Remained of a Handsome Residence, plays on the thin line between providing information and succumbing to curiosity. Recollecting Jean-Luc Nancy’s affirmation that since Fukushima, the natural disasters of the past have been replaced by a single ongoing civilisational catastrophe, Battle investigates how disasters are turned into spectacles through media coverage and traumatic events fall under the empire of media sensationalism. In a composition made of history and counter-memory, political mythology and the iconography of catastrophes, Battle makes use of datamoshing to produce fractures within the imaginal: taking images and videos of devastating events, she alters the code of the images to produce random crashes or glitches which eventually corrupt the image and force simultaneous reproduction. This process of fragmentation and repetitive abstraction de-spectacularises the dramatic events and, in doing so, avoids the violence of “disaster porn” imagery. Violence and conflict can also be found in Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s exhibition project Divine Violence and acclaimed art book Holy Bible, where passages of sacred history are associated with images extracted from documents in the Archive of Modern Conflict. Their work questions both the neutrality of representation technologies and the innocence of the archives, only to become irrational witnesses to the violence of crimes, genocide, destruction, or catastrophes.

Erik Kessels, All Yours, 2015. From in almost every picture #9, 2011. Detail of the installation. Courtesy of the artist © Erik Kessels. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.
Erik Kessels, All Yours, 2015. From in almost every picture #9, 2011. Detail of the installation. Courtesy of the artist © Erik Kessels. Used here by kind permission from Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal. All rights reserved.

Five other artists present works that are defining of how ‘the post-photographic condition’ opens as a critical concept calling for a re-thinking of photography today. Paul Wong explores the multi-faceted dynamics of the image in relation to processes of massification in Multiverse and especially in Year of GIF, where thousands of pictures taken with a smartphone over a one-year period create a mosaic of virtual flipbooks. Like a kaleidoscope, the multiplicity and variety of images flash by and show how ubiquity and dissolution lie at the very foundations of the post-photographic. From pixelated motions to time-lapse techniques, surveillance camera documentary parameters, loops of animated GIFs, selfies and abstractions – all these highlight the iconic diversity the blurs the patterns of capture and everyday existence.

Grégory Chatonsky and Dominique Sirois have collaborated on Memories Center since 2014, to create a device that enables the perception of mental images. While neurological research facilities are looking for ways to visualise brain activity in the form of figurative images, the artists employ poetic means to anticipate recurring dystopian nightmares in which centralised power exercises control over our minds. Using a database of 20,000 dreams, compiled by Adam Schneider and G. William Domhoff at the University of California, the software used by the artists generates and reads new dream sequences to then search the Internet for images corresponding to the selected keywords. While dreamt situations or events are externalised and expressed as short picture stories, with a structure reminiscent of storyboards, and the iconic implications reflect on the nature of visual thinking and the future of images, the project addresses “high-risk areas in humanistic and democratic terms.”

Dina Kelberman’s Torrent series continues her famous online project I’m Google started in 2011, where images call to other images in a sequence governed by morphological and semantic affinities that generate a gradual, relentless, never-ending flow. Referencing how the 19th century has brought the compulsive need to stockpile images as a way to control the world, and how attempts to understand culture and human experience was added to this compilation obsession during the 20th century, Kelberman discusses dialectical images as a matter of showing: the underlying discourse lies in the infinity of images. Adjectively, Owen Kydd’s Durational Photographs, a project the artist initiated back in 2006, investigates photographs that lessen the gap between the static image and kinematic lapse. The artist takes photos of static subjects, then switches the system to video mode and records a short sequence in high definition. While the results are almost identical in terms of perception, ontologically they show two conflicting ways of representing temporality: in the still photograph, a fragment of the subject’s life has been captured, corresponding to the length of the exposure; in the video, time is presented in a continuous fashion. The difference, then, is that between a slice in time and an unfolding sequence. But this difference reveals a paradox – while temporality and death have been instrumental in developing a theory of photography, the still life (nature morte) is brought back to life, since Kydd’s work makes manifest the circularity attributed to time in many cosmologies by including very slight movements that reveal the videographic nature of the images, which have been edited to form a continuous loop, with no beginning or end.

Could paradoxes such as this be the starting point for a critical re-thinking of future images? Maybe. Joan Fontcuberta’s The Post-Photographic Condition is important in its attempt to bridge multiple expressions and provide a critical momentum in a development that has been under way ever since the late ‘60s and where digital culture itself might be just a brief interlude before an even more significant change, one that is yet to happen.

 

– Exclusive interview with Joan Fontcuberta by Sabin Bors, curator and editor-in-chief of the anti-utopias contemporary art platform, translated by Carmen Salas and Estela Oliva from Alpha-ville, whom I would like to thank again for their support and amiability. All other information, artist presentations, and interviews have been compiled together and presented by Sabin Bors based on a number of materials made available by Fanny Gravel-Patry, communications assistant at Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal, whom I would also like to thank for her support and amiability, and for facilitating the interview with curator Joan Fontcuberta.

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