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Emmanuelle Leonard

October 06, 2009

For some fifteen years, Emmanuelle Léonard has developed strategies to represent public space. Using photographic traditions and applications she designs specific production methods for her projects, which range from documentary to conceptual photography. This versatile use of the medium and of video provides tactics to infiltrate the world of work (Les travailleurs, 2002), to shadow a solitary walker (Les marcheurs, 2004), and to pursue a security guard (Guardia Resguardeme, 2005).

Léonard's work can be seen in The Spaces of the Image, the central exhibition of Montreal’s Le Mois de la Photo, until October 11. She has participated in many solo and group exhibitions, among others at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, Kunsthaus Dresden, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Optica, Clark and Occurrence galleries, Mercer Union, Casa Vallarta, Galerie Glassbox, and Centre VU. In 2003, she undertook a residency at the Villa Arson in Nice. In 2006, she was an artist in residence at the Christoph Merian foundation in Basel. In 2009, she will be in residence in Helsinki as part of a collaboration between the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec and the Finnish Artist in Residency Foundation. She has upcoming shows at L’Œil de Poisson in Quebec City and at Expression in Saint-Hyacinthe. She was awarded the Pierre-Ayot prize in 2005.

Emmanuelle Léonard is represented by the Galerie Donald Browne in Montréal.

1. Raymond Depardon

Recently I rewatched a couple films by the French director and photographer Raymond Depardon: Faits divers, Urgences, Délits flagrants, and 10e chambre, instants d'audience. His films were made in the tradition of direct cinema and show without commentary (as it was not necessary…). Depardon managed to penetrate a Paris police station, an examination room of a psychiatric hospital, an interrogation room in the basement of the Paris office building, and the courtroom of the Criminal Court. His entry into these locations was quite a feat in and of itself, since mistrust closes many doors. From the evidence on view, there remains the words of the protagonist who, facing the doctor, judge or investigator, tries to build a credible truth. And yet the evidence is constantly contradicting itself…

2. Titicut Follies

I also rewatched Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, a documentary filmmaker who depicts silent observation from a similar position as Depardon. The film looks at the workings of a Bridgewater psychiatric penitentiary for the criminally insane in Massachusetts. A scene depicting naked detainees being hosed  by prison guards was one of various factors in having the film banned from 1967 to 1991; it was seen as pornographic. One of the arguments used to condemn the film is that those filmed did not give their signed consent.

3. YouTube: Omar Khadr

To continue on documentation and speech difficulties, I watched, through the organised chaos of YouTube, clips from surveillance cameras showing the interrogation of Omar Khadr by Canadian police at the Guantanamo prison. These images were widely circulated by television news around the world. Just try to watch the entire document. We see a young man who will quickly be shown animosity by the representatives of the Canadian State. After an initial series of questions, the police leave the interrogation room. Left alone, Omar Khadr seems to have clearly abandoned all hope that the Canadian government would provide assistance to him. It would be his mother that he would call in tears.

4. Time After Time

I also watched Anri Sala’s video Time After Time. It is night time, a figure is revealed little by little, and we soon see a horse standing motionless beside a highway. Where is he? What does he do? We do not receive an answer. The horse does not flinch when he is brushed against by a truck driving by. He is well tamed, resigned. Likely due to fear, only one hind leg tenses up. The animal seems to struggle to put it back on the ground, with varying degrees of success. Here, the tensed muscle will reach the limit or failure of dressage. The lifted hoof of the animal stands as a terrible human instinct. Art can sometimes be subtle thing, a stretched muscle.

5. Crime Scene Photography

“Always squeeze the shutter release as you do the trigger on your gun.” -Crime Scene Photography course, RCMP

I recently reread my notes after a meeting with a Lieutenant from the Criminal Identity Service of the Montreal Police (SPVM). The meeting focused on the ways in which police utilize photography. It seems that the Nikon company was quick in their field, with the invention of the NEF file (or RAW) which prevents the need for the user to backup their image after a change to the file is made. This came about by using the principles of the analogue negative. Suddenly, Nikon opened an important market. We passed through the specifications accompanying the images that a police photographer will make of a crime scene. If a picture was to be rejected by a judge as inadmissible evidence that would commonly be due to an error in the registration records of the specifications. The rhetoric of the defence lawyers could then apply for the inscription of the date (the day before the month, the full year, etc.), and the picture ceases to be viable judicial evidence. So it is the system in which the image circulates that gives it its weight, but in the field of forensic photography, there exist many certainties. Are you reassured? (read The Burden of Representation by John Tagg which describes the first uses of photography in courthouses.)



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