Thursday, 13 December 2012

No Canada

Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination, Penny Cousineau-Levine

I missed Penny Cousineau-Levine's Faking Death: Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination when it came out in 2003, only a few years after I moved from Canada to Ireland. So the discovery of it in a Belfast bookshop has offered a reminder of a photographic culture that, while well documented within Canadian art discourses, is generally unknown to the wider public. While some photographers covered here - Jeff Wall, Roy Arden, Donigan Cumming, Ken Lum - are familiar, 'international' figures, there remain many artists whose names I hadn't seen or heard since I was a university student back in Newfoundland (and, in some cases, who I was happy to forget).

Of course, there are exceptional photographers here as well: Carol Conde and Karl Beveridge's incorporation of political documentary images into domestic settings, often just visible through a window frame or on a wall calendar; Jin-me Yoon's installations of text and childhood photos that explore her Korean heritage; Mark Leslie's unsentimental, diaristic account of living with AIDs. This is where an overview of Canadian art photography really proves useful, offering an insight into a diverse body of work that all too often doesn't cross south of the 49th parallel. However, Cousineau-Levine has a specific agenda here that goes beyond writing a primer on a select group of artists. She explains her reasons in the introduction, drawing on her experience as a lecturer:

"When shown Canadian photographs alongside those made in Britain, the United States, and elsewhere, whether documentary photographs or portraits or landscapes, the almost universal response of [my] students was that they could see 'nothing' in these images, that there was 'nothing' there."

The attempt to fill this void, to map out an inherently 'Canadian' photographic culture, leads to some smart observations, such as the prevalence of images that feature frames within the picture frame, as if re-presenting or preserving an exterior natural world, in the work of Michel Lambeth or Lynne Cohen. Perhaps less convincing is an attempt to impose a psychoanalytical framework to Canadian photography through the metaphor of the anorexic, a condition that, for Cousineau-Levine, encompasses "the interminable Canadian 'identity crisis'; the country's [...] lack of a firm sense of self; the unrelenting preoccupation with death, entrapment, and flight from the physical manifest in our photographic practice; the Canadian inclination to adopt the 'look' of images from somewhere else [...]" And so on.

The relative merit of these readings notwithstanding, what strikes me is the author's insistence that her students' response is something to be refuted, that the 'nothing' they see in Canadian photography is a failure rather than a virtue. The imposition of a coherent, national character to a range of practices, each stemming from different backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences, feels curiously old-fashioned, and out of step with a globalised, multicultural society. Furthermore, this desire to find a national photography betrays the very insecurity and 'lack of a firm sense of self' that the author criticises in her students. One hardly needs a Canadian equivalent to the Great American Novel or the Young British Artists; it is the ambivalence towards such national qualifiers that, in itself, best points towards the Canadian imagination.

Chris Clarke (critic and curator, Lewis Glucksman Gallery, University College Cork)


  1. I travel a lot. I have a dream to travel all the world in my wherever i go I captured most of the moments into my camera. custom assignment help online | tutorshelponline I have lot of memories in my photograph which reminds me the awesomeness of that place.

  2. Here is a good Weblog You might Come across Fascinating that we Encourage Youโปรโมชั่นGclub ของทางทีมงานตอนนี้แจกฟรีโบนัส 50%
    เพียงแค่คุณสมัคร Gclub กับทางทีมงานของเราเพียงเท่านั้น
    สมัครสล็อตออนไลน์ >>> goldenslot
    สนใจร่วมลงทุนกับเรา สมัครเอเย่น Gclub คลิ๊กได้เลย

  3. Enjoyed studying this, very good stuff, thanks.
    เว็บไซต์คาสิโนออนไลน์ที่ได้คุณภาพอับดับ 1 ของประเทศ
    เป็นเว็บไซต์การพนันออนไลน์ที่มีคนมา สมัคร Gclub Royal1688
    และยังมีหวยให้คุณได้เล่น สมัครหวยออนไลน์ ได้เลย
    สมัครสมาชิกที่นี่ >>> Gclub Royal1688

  4. We do not impose exorbitant prices on our Custom Research Paper Services as well a comprehensive policy where we attempt to accommodate almost every budget.our Research Paper Writers for Hire are prompt in completing custom papers.

  5. Students, I can suggest you these tips for writing a research paper introduction. Take a look.

  6. How Do I Connect My Canon Printer To Wifi? Switching on the network printing can help to get rid of the headache of cables and USB. The only way to do connect canon printer to wifi. You can reach out to us at +1 800 684 5649 for help at any time.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. very useful info, thank you for sharing with us!
    build royale

  9. the best collection of 2020 the most beautiful jewelry of all time, a lot of kind of necklace for women , best prices ever


  11. Thanks for all your information happy wheels 2, Website is very nice and informative content.


  12. ارخص شركة شحن عفش

    نقل عفش من جدة الى مكة نقل عفش من جدة الى مكة
    شركة نقل عفش من جدة الى الامارات نقل عفش من جدة الى الامارات
    افضل شركة نقل عفش من جدة الى الرياض نقل عفش من جدة الى الرياض
    شركة نقل عفش من جدة الى الدمام نقل عفش من جدة الى الدمام
    شركة نقل عفش من المدينة المنورة الى مكة نقل عفش من المدينة المنورة الى مكة

  13. Research papers on aviation industry are tricky to complete and aviation students have been searching for aviation research paper help and aviation term paper services.

  14. In the world of today for a business lawyer, being an essential part of the private sector as well as the commercial litigation is referred to as one of the most vast sections of American's legal industry.Commercial Litigation Solicitors If you have always wanted to be a business lawyer and have plentiful knowledge in business, then you can certainly think of this job as your career.

  15. This is extremely helpful info!! Very good work. Everything is very interesting to learn and easy to understood. Thank you for giving information.
    click here

  16. It is important to seek english language essay writing services and english language coursework writing services since students find help when they visit English Language Writing Services.

  17. Many people like Canadian photography because it has many features and every person can't learn this skill. So, if you learn this skill, you will get many benefits because through this skill, you will get job immediately. Dissertation proposal writing services.

  18. Legitimate custom nursing writing services are not hard to come across for those in need of Affordable Nursing Writing Services and nursing research writing services.