This latest instalment of Le Mois de la Photo (Photo Month), Montreal’s photography biennial, was titled ‘The Post-Photographic Condition’, and curated by Joan Fontcuberta. It featured 29 artists from five continents and argued that we have reached a crucial moment in the history of images in which the identity of photography itself must be rigorously re-examined.
At Optica, Roy Arden’s 90-minute video offered viewers a free-fall through a whirligig of some 28,144 images sourced from the internet. Our fascination with these images segued meaningfully with its title The World as Will and Representation (2007), with human will understood here as being suborned by the exigencies of representation. Simon Menner’s series ‘Images from the Secret Stasi Archives’ (2011–13) opened up a heretofore unseen cornucopia of images looted from one of the most repressive police states in human history, which was at once chilling and unintentionally hilarious.
Some of the most provocative works in the Mois were installed at the Parisian Laundry. In Memories (2015), Roberto Pellegrinuzzi used his camera as optical prosthetic for a full year, shooting on average 600 photos per day. A quarter of a million photographs later, he birthed his own galactic nebula of images, which embroidered a self-sufficient universe. Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s Road Trip (2004) memorialized with grace and acuity the latter’s dead grandfather through a series of slides taken during a trip from Calgary to New York for a cancer prognosis. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin showed Divine Violence (2013), juxtaposing images of modern conflict with Biblical passages. Also, the Mois hosted the international premiere of Hans Eijkelboom’s The Street and Modern Life (2015), commissioned by Multistory. Scores of candid photographs taken in Birmingham, UK, depicted subjects who share a given trait – say, a repeated gesture – and these are fitted into ‘cascading sequences’ in which links in the narrative chain are determined by the repetition.
Berlin-based artist Joachim Schmid, a hoarder of vernacular photographs for over 30 years, showed the fervour of his industry as an Internet scavenger at Occurence. His series Other People’s Photographs (2008–11) demonstrates the scope and grandeur of his project in the form of a set of 96 uniform, self-published books of images, laid out on tables. According to a weird taxonomy, these books contain photographs found on the Internet and grouped into seemingly arbitrary categories such as ‘Sex and Shadows’. This subversive taxonomy works against museological ends, undermining both catalogue and archive, and instantiates the ‘post-photographic’ condition in a manner undreamt of by Jorge Luis Borges.
Isabelle Le Minh’s Tous décavés (2015) project, at SBC Gallery of Canadian Art, deals with the subject of identification techniques, from physiognomic atlases to the most sophisticated facial-recognition systems now in use. Le Minh’s obsession with biometric data banks speaks knowingly to both security mavens and privacy-challenged ordinary citizens. At Atelier Circulaire, Argentinian artist Leandro Berra – who fled dictatorship in the 1970s – paid homage to his ‘disappeared’ friends by using the Faces programme, whereby faces are reconstructed by Photofit/Identikit atlases of physiognomy and state-of-the-art IT systems. The pressing topicality of the Syrian refugee crisis was addressed by Liam Maloney, whose wrenching images of Syrian refugees using smartphones to text relatives, made for a radiant installation at Galerie B-312. Jacques Pugin at the Centre PHI, showed Les cavaliers du diable (The Knights of the Devil, 2008–13), working with found images of the civil war in Darfur. Pugin saved Google Earth images of the atrocities and processed them twice. He deleted the colour, then inverted the images, thereby emphasizing the fundamentally deadly barbarities that the images evoke.
Paul Wong exhibited a remarkable survey of his recent work in ‘Multiverse’ at the Joyce Yahouda Gallery. It included Solstice (2014), a hypnotic video that condensed the 24 hours of the longest day of the year on a Vancouver street known as ‘Crack Alley’ (a crossroads for drug consumption and trafficking), into 24 compelling minutes. In another equally seductive installation, #LLL, Looking Listening Looping (2014), Wong covered a wall with 40 tablet-sized screens, each presenting a loop of animated GIFs, scenic minutiae of a life lived, which were originally intended to be shared with his constituency online.
In this vast conflation of images, curator Fontcuberta asked the same question that the sci-fi author Ray Bradbury did in his 1950 short-story collection The Martian Chronicles: ‘Can’t you recognize the human in the inhuman?’ The image of homo photographicus that emerged here was all too human – in the selfie to end all selfies, as it were – reminding us of the first colonists on Mars in Bradbury’s book who look down in the watery mirror of a canal and see the Martians staring back up at them.