Putting theory into practice

Marc Prüst blogs about Mois de la Photo - Blog 5

After two days of seeing exhibitions, the team of the Mois de la Photo organized portfolio reviews today. The reviews were setup in a way that was new to me. Each photographer had his or her own table and the reviewers were able to choose at which table they would sit to have a look at the work. I felt slightly unconfortable at first, as I'm not too at ease to approach people I have not yet met before, but the atmosphere was very open so it went pretty smooth. 


Like during most portfolio reviews, there were good and not so good talks, but the quality of the work was high, and I was happy to meet several interesting people. This set-up also allowed for some improvisation, and I ended up reviewing the work of a young Canadian photographer together with a curator from the Photographers' Gallery in London. We both approached the strong portraits of this photographer from different angles, but we did come to similar conclusions, partly based on what we had been seeing during the exhibition visits of the past 2 days. 


It's funny, when you are so intently looking and talking about the abstract theories of a curator during a few days, I felt the need to try and apply my understanding of these theories to the work of the photographers I met today. Specially in this last meeting, I hope the photographer understood what we were getting at when we discussed her work. Her prints were amazing, and her intentions with her images were clear and articulate. But somehow it did not seem sufficient: she needed to be aware that her photographic process was an inherent part of her proposition as an artist, but not only that: the process does not stop at the image. We advised her to take her images, her message one step further and understand today's context where anyone can reach an audience through social media allows an individual to speak to his or her own audience. 

If you look closely at Paul's proposition for this biennale, you could almost say that the image is a byproduct of photography: it is process, and in this context the camera not as tool but as instrument that is most important. I have written here before that I still feel that the image that comes out as a result of this process is important and needs to be convincing, visually. 

After the portfolio reviews, there was some time to relax and catch up over a beer. The discussion quickly went to photography, of course, and that's when something important dawned on me. Even if I want to image to be the primary subject and object in photography, reality is different. Just look around you: there is an overload of images: we live in a visual society. There are some counterpoints to make to this claim, but I don't want to get in to that discussion. My point is that the visual society in which we live today is based on quantity, and not on quality. Today's cameras, today's processes have enabled us to upload 350 million pictures a day on one social media site (facebook). The quality of those images is irrelevant, but they are still seen, appreciated, and understood by their audience not as quality photography, but as snippets of the continuous stories of friends' lives. The images uploaded by newssites to illustrate an article: the photographic quality is often debatable, but that is not the point: an image attracts attention, it will only be the headline for a short time, it needs to be lowres, easy to find, easy to handle, cheap in its usage, 'good' means something very different here from what I understand as a 'quality' image. 

In both examples, technology is at the heart of the process, the process is indeed more important that the image. How this insight translates to daily practice of working photographers should perhaps be the subject of a next post. I think the answer for photographers lies in their power of communication, but indeed, that's something for a next time.

 I would like to mention here one photographer specifically whose work caught my attention, Charles-Frédérick Ouellet. You can check out his work here.