Relations With Staged Instants

Courtesy Mois de la Photo

The sky was pouring buckets of rain as my car lights reflected the puddles on a dark Saturday evening. Driving in the rain always puts me in a kind of film noir mood.

I was headed towards 5455 de Gaspé, an ancient industrial building, repurposed into sheik art galleries in the heart of the Mile End. The galleries were now hosting a handful of vernissages for the Mois de la Photo à Montréal, an month-long biennial event showcasing contemporary photographic works in 25 locations across the city.

Courtesy Mois de la Photo

Soaking wet, I set foot inside the loft-y space, following the small crowd through the high ceilinged corridors echoing our footsteps. I wandered between the four gallery spaces—Atelier Circulaire, Occurrence Espace d’art et d’essai contemporains, Optica and Centre Clark—taking everything in. The people gathered around the photos were remarkably dressed, smart and posh, outfits dominated by the crazy eyeglasses lording the room from atop their noses. I’m guessing they were artists and other actors within the high-brow photographic community; certainly an inspiring crowd to loiter around.

Now, I say high-brow with a tongue against my cheek. I’m poking fun, I mean no harm.

I must admit, however, that some of the vignettes explaining the pieces and their intent really read to me like name-dropping exercises, and felt to be lacking in details, leaving me sometimes puzzled, incapable of reaching the mimetic comprehension they invoked, even with my academic and scholarly background. I don’t imagine they would read any better to the uninitiated. They certainly didn’t restrain my enjoyment of the collections; I just thought it was kind of funny and a little cliché to find opaque descriptions of artist works in art galleries; it was almost akin to a Portlandia moment.

Courtesy Mois de la Photo

Of the collections I saw, what I enjoyed most is the careful curation of seemingly mundane photographs, sometimes very personal shots like family portraits, or other times product shots, archiving a consumerist environment.

It was the case of Eric Kessels’ All Yours, at Occurence, who presented a collection of photos of birthday parties, travels, classified ads, etcetera and exposed them like postcards in metallic towers, inviting the audience to take the printed pictures, effectively turning them into the curators of their own mini photo collection. By choosing to organise these trivial pictures neatly by themes and motifs, Kessels is inviting the audience to reflect on the photographic context: the event of its production, its intended audience and relative privacy or intimacy, and the emotional attachment that underlies our relation to photographs. It felt quirky and strangely shy to effectuate my selection of photos I wanted to take home.
I am curious about the development of the expo: which piles of photos will be gone before the others, having successfully charmed most people into taking them? I wonder.

Courtesy Mois de la Photo

Photographs can also be more abstract, inviting interpretation. Manipulated to the point that only shaky, superimposed outlines were visible on a grayish background, Centre Clark projected the collection Memories Center, by Grégory Chatonsky and Dominique Sirois on the walls of a room enveloped in red lights. It invited the audience to participate internally in recreating the subject of the pictures, their context and the situation that allowed them to emerge. The work set itself apart with its ambiance, underlining the act and locus of reception of images. You can also consider the photographical object through contemporary exploration of the limits of the medium and the narrative exercise it calls forth. These obscure shots really managed to pinpoint the implications of the medium.

Being so intricately embedded in the fabric of our daily lives, photographs often are taken for granted, and these multifaceted expositions allow the audience to pose and examine their relations with the pictures they encounter or lack thereof. Allow yourself the opportunity to reflect on their implications by visiting one of the galleries; most of it is free, and it lasts all month.

Mois de la Photo à Montréal // Sept. 10 to Oct. 11 // Various locations // Free to $8 //