On the way to Quebec from the midwest this spring, we spent a morning at the George Eastman International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester. i’d been wanting to visit this space for quite a long time but wandering the halls i was left with that queer, uneasy sensation that often strikes me in such institutions: i was oddly disappointed and even disturbed by the whole affair and for a moment i could not exactly figure out why. the museum was very well laid out — albeit in a grandiose, imperial, self-conscious sort of way — and the staff was kind, even cheery, but the exhibits were claustrophobic, narrow and lacking in vision despite their sweeping ambition. our visit was before the summer’s exhibition of Lewis Hine’s iconic portraits of child laborers during the progressive era, and perhaps if i had seen this show it would have altered my impressions of the space, but although the work they had on display was for the most part technically stunning, the content of it all left me questioning the state of the art — and the arts more generally in this age of corporate domination. to begin with, the museum’s curation of pavel wolberg’s photographs of Hasidic communities in israel was offensive in light of the orchestrated state terrorism taking place within occupied Palestine during our visit. wolberg’s admittedly gorgeous images did succeed in humanizing the hasidim but they gave no hint of the geographic and cultural battles framing the contested space that bound their lives. whether this was the choice of the eastman house or the artist, a photographer who has displayed a sly talent for disclosing the internal cost, the brutal ironies and the raw contradictions of zionism in his other work, i do not know. but for me, the exclusion amounted to an act of erasure that obscured a potentially potent revelation.
In the adjoining chamber, robert weingarten’s testimonial to the Amish offered an even colder, more distant portrait of a community struggling to come to terms with the cascading inevitability of the modern world. before showing up i was especially primed to see the museum’s large format exhibit. but this too was a let down….slim pickings with only about eight images on display without any real thematic cohesion to bind them together apart from the fact that they were all very, very big. anyway, we had just seen a far more in depth look at Andrew Moore’s epic work at the Detroit Institute of Arts. the DIA (which is under pressure to sell off its collections in order to pay for a half century of divestment, outsourcing and white flight), actually managed to give Moore enough room to display his bold prints of the city’s decline…curatorial choices aside, something else was gnawing at me about the eastman house.
What really brought me down the most about touring the Eastman Home and Museum was the inescapable awareness of optic power that saturated the institution and its walls — the deeply contested economy of the gaze that is embodied in the figure of eastman and is such an emblematic feature of the idiom he helped transform. above and beyond the choice of photographers and photographs, what was truly on display in Rochester was the ability of corporate entities to pass themselves off as benevolent citizens. and eastman’s elitist, condescending posture towards “the people” the images appeared to be celebrating came across on the imposing walls of his mansion — privilege and power wrapped itself around the technology it was canonizing, adding to the estrangement of an art form from the very people it so brazenly fetishizes within its field of vision. this tension was all the more ironic given that eastman is the figure most responsible for “democratizing” the technology of image reproduction, making it available to the working class in much the same way that ford’s Model T allowed the average laboring family to possess an automobile. portable photography is one of the most revolutionary tools of our age. the canon powershot and the iphone have become the people’s paintbrush, our collective memory chamber and a technology of defense in an age of state violence and hyper-surveillance. like andrew carnegie, eastman was one of the last century’s great philanthropists, contributing untold millions of dollars to help establish colleges, universities and research programs– all of which came with an economic and cultural price in that it reinforced our dependency upon capitalist accumulation and the concentration of wealth as a source of social cohesion. a close friend of booker t. washington during his heyday, eastman poured money into the Tuskegee and Hampton Institutes and was one of the largest donors to the amerikan eugenics society. the heart of citizens united is, no doubt, buried in an ostentatious grave in kodak Park, Rochester.
This summer I will be taking a picture a day. because i’m lugging around my laptop and a bunch of books as i pedal around the city, most of the shots are taken with an iphone instead of my nikon. so the technical quality of the images is a bit off. at first this bothered me but i’m actually coming to like the effect. some of the results can be surprising in a pleasant way. it reminds me of shooting with an old Polaroid when i was a kid. you took what you took and you got what you got. some of my earliest childhood memories are framed by blurry faces and bleeding light. this project has already been rewarding, and not only because a portrait of my détournement through the streets of montreal is emerging — an impressionistic journal that will not only stay with me but frame how i remember the past.
But also because — as i was writing to an old friend of mine recently — when i am thinking about taking pictures it changes the way i occupy and move through space. i notice light differently, i notice spatial dynamics and tones with a more acute sensitivity. i’m even more aware of natural time as opposed to the enforced rhythm of the industrial clock…it is odd that such an advanced technology could help one become more in tune with the environment, that it could help soothe the wound of alienation. i’m spending my days writing in either a cafe or the library and when i leave at around five o’clock i often have the sensation that i’ve missed the world. photography propels me into another frame of mind.
Observing my landscape after a period of concentration, i am noticing how the angle of my sight-line reflects the preoccupations of my work. this is very interesting because it suggests that how i see mirrors how i think….and vice versa no doubt. in june, my meditations on the idea of spatial literacy in a piece on my travels through South America has re-focused my attention on the use of wall-writing and how it captures the ghostly aura of subjects the way that light leaves traces upon a silver emulsion.
As i mentioned, these days i’m using a relatively old iphone to capture images. many of the shots were taken at night under an ambient light. if possible, i try not to use an instagram filter just like i don’t photoshop the images i take with my other camera. with an iphone, however, its all about playfulness so at times it’s fun to go all out gaudy. at the end of the day, anything goes…
Well, anyway, here they are. my daily images for the month of june. eastman be damned. thank you very much, but bugger off old chap. we’ll take it from here…
(oh, and if anyone has any information about the artists whose work is represented in these images, or the back-story behind them, please let us know!)
Rue St. Barnard
Av Oglivy et Rue Durocher
Avenue Duluth et Rue BuillonI have just found out that this piece of work was done by Zola Mtl, a woman street artist, or collective, putting up some beautiful stuff around the city!No Filter — with ZOLA street art and Zola Mtl.
Rue Milton et Rue Sainte Famille
Rue de Bleury et Concorde
Boulevard Saint-Laurent et Rue Saint Norbert
Rue Jarry et Avenue de L’Épee
Av du Parc et Rue Saint Zotique
I believe this was an in an alley between
Rue Saint Urbain et Rue Clark
Rue Saint Dominique et Rue Marie-Anne
Rue Saint Dominique et Rue Roy Est
Filter: None, but Completely Toyed With
Avenue du Parc et Rue Saint Viateur
Rue Sainte Catherine E et Rue Wolfe
Rue Clark et Sainte-Catherine
Rue Marie Anne et Avenue Esplanade?