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Emmanuelle Léonard, Noyade, Rivière-des-Mille-îles, Laval, 2007.
48 x 32 pouces.
Impression jet d'encre | Inkjet print.
Gracieuseté de l'artiste | Courtesy of the artist.

Emmanuelle Léonard
From September 7th 2007 to October 13th 2007
Une sale affaire (A Dirty Business)

Le Mois de la Photo à Montréal

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

The driver and his truck sank into the river’s icy waters. The image of a man — the owner of a house near the scene of the tragedy — is broadcast over the media. Emmanuelle Léonard’s Une sale affaire (“dirty business”) brings the investigation to life, with all the mundane details and the flurry of spawned documents. Here, though, investigative procedures accompany a photographic fiction that brings something new to the evidence: the image itself.

With her previous series, "Les travailleurs" (2002), "Les travailleurs de l’église Sainte-Rita", Nice (2003), and "Les marcheurs" (2004), Léonard had seasoned us to a practice midway between conceptualism and photo-journalism. Her investigation of realism, often expressive of a social universe, here leads her to question the objectivity of the photographic document, considered from a judicial perspective. To be accepted in court, police photography must respect simple though strict guidelines meant to ensure efficiency and objectivity, as summed up in the statement: “The photograph must not appeal to the emotions.” (Field Evidence Technician Course, California State University). Applying this rule to picture-taking, Léonard circumscribes every angle, every exit from a building. The intent is to take pictures that reconstruct the scene leading up to the investigation. These photographs and a brief noirish video sequence call us to witness. The camera’s eye attempts to persuade us. But of what crime?

In the basement corridors leading to the archives at the Quebec City court house, Léonard has access to items of evidence for closed cases, among them photographs taken by the police. Numbered and bound, they are free to be consulted and photocopied for they no longer have any judiciary use. In a sense, they’ve returned to the public domain, like the events recounted in the second hall of the gallery. Elsewhere, equipped with a portable radio, Léonard listens in on police communications, on the lookout for incidents requiring immediate action. Thus equipped, and attentive to what’s happening on TV and the Internet, she observes public events, follows press photos: accidents, raids, shootings, drownings. While a picture printed in the newspaper is meant to elicit emotion, police photos muster the evidence. Between the photo attached to a police report and exhibitions in the printed press, between the programmed neutrality of the one and the sensationalist intentions of the other, can we measure the visual divide?

September 27, 2007

Emmanuelle Léonard lives and works in Montreal. Since 1996, her photography, distinguished by its conceptual qualities, has reengaged the documentary genre and reexamined its photographic purpose. Léonard has shown her work and participated in numerous local, national, and international exhibitions, most notably in "Territoires urbains" (Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 2005; "Oakville Galleries", (2006), "Trafic inter/national d’art actuel en Abitibi-Témiscamingue" (L’Écart, Rouyn-Noranda, 2005), "Arbeitshaus Einatmen, Kunsthaus Dresden", Dresden, Germany, 2005), "Lieux anthropiques" (Casa Vallarta, Guadalajara, VOX, la saison du Québec au Mexique, 2003). In 2005, she was awarded the Pierre-Ayot prize, from the Association des galeries d’art contemporain and the City of Montreal. In 2006, she was the recipient of a workshop-residency in Basel, from the Christoph Merian Foundation and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Her works are part of the permanent collection of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec as well as that of the City of Montreal.

- Delgado, Jérôme, «Fabuler autour du fait divers?», Le Devoir, 15-16 septembre 2007, p.E9.
- Mavrikakis, Nicolas, «L’émoi de la photo?», Voir, 4 octobre 2007, p.45.
- Redfern, Christine, «Art of darkness», Mirror, 13-19 septembre 2007, p.60.