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Feintes_doutes + fictions : Réflexions sur la photographie numérique

by Rodrigue Bélanger, Editor
éditions J’ai VU, Québec (Québec), 2005
96 pp. illus., 40 b/w. Paper, 18 euros
ISBN: 2-922763-12-9.

Reviewed by Jan Baetens
KU Leuven
Faculty of Arts, Blijde Inkomststraat 21, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium


This collection of essays and pictures has a twofold structure, and a double aim. On the one hand, it contains a series of images by Canadian based artists (Holly Marie Armishaw, Nicolas Baier, Ivan Binet, Marcel Blouin, Robin Collyer, Isabelle Hayer, Bettina Hoffmann and Yoko Takashima). All these artists, who have displayed in the past a certain concern for technology, take on the new conceptual possibilities that digital photography offers. On the other hand, it proposes, besides an article by Sylvie Parent who delivers a comment on each artist, five rather short essays on the various challenges——aesthetic, philosophical, ethical, etc.——raised by the digital revolution. All these texts too are due to Canadian scholars. The publication is partly bilingual. The essays are either in French (Olivier Clain, Thomas De Koninck, Alain Paiement) or in English (Robert Bean, George Legrady), with an abstract in the other language. This double structure is also reflected in the book’s program, which aims to display contemporary creative work as well as to offer new insights on digital photography.

As the title of the book suggests, the basic claim is here that digital photography introduces a fundamental suspicion toward the photographic medium, which has been deprived of its fundamental indexical properties. Yet if photography’s fictionalization is strongly underlined in most of the accompanying texts, this revolution is not really what appears in the images of the book. Not only because the selection is limited to contemporary photography, with no excursions to historic material that would have demonstrated the shifts between indexical and post-indexical or fictional images, but also because of the fact that many pictures only become ‘strange’ when one has a background knowledge of the conditions of their productions. More than once, the photographs seem very nondigital, and the reader needs to rely on the context (for instance the inclusion of the images in this book, or the introductory comments made by Parent) to realize that what he sees is more than what he gets. This is a crucial remark, for it gives a particular twist to the reading of these images: The question is no longer whether we can or may believe what we see (as we used to do, at least in an innocent view of these issues, in the predigital era), but whether we are confronted or not with images that have been manipulated.

The theoretical essays of the volume do not always tackle this type of problem. Instead, they often focus on general, almost philosophical, discussions on truth and fiction in photography, which do not always give the best understanding of what really is going on in digital photography. To do so, a more technical, down-to-earth approach is necessary, and not all the texts accept the idea of coming down from their Olympus to offer a better grip of what is laid out on the printed page. Therefore, the things one learns from this volume have less to do with digital photography (or even with photography tout court), than with cultural history, in general. But as a book on digital photography (and despite the interest of several artists), this is one that hardly challenges any of our ideas on the topic.



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