Janie Julien-Fort points camera obscura at our future

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk with Janie Julien-Fort

Early Revelations (truck) photograph by Janie Julien-Fort

Courtesy of Janie Julien-Fort

Révélations anticipées (les camions) (Early Revelations (Trucks))

Janie Julien-Fort
Photograph
50 in x 42 in (127 cm x 107 cm)
2010-2014

What can we learn about this work?

EXPERIMENT

When looking at Janie Julien-Fort’s photograph Révélations anticipées (les camions), it is tempting for a novice art enthusiast to write it off as a camera or darkroom failure, or one of those old family photos we just can’t throw out for sentimental reasons; however, this work is neither a result of camera failure nor the artist’s lack of darkroom skills. Révélations anticipées (les camions) is an experiment and part of a research project and exhibition called Révélations anticipées.

The experimental nature of Julien-Fort’s work is what fascinates Shahla Bahrami, director of Voix Visuelle Gallery in Vanier, where Révélations anticipées is being exhibited.

“When I look at a photograph like this one, I see an experiment, I see research,” she says. “You don’t see this kind of photograph every day – on the news or in magazines. The artist is experimenting and pushing boundaries and that can open doors to something new. In contemporary art trying something new is very important.”

Bahrami also explains that although the photograph may look like an accident, it has a strong sense of composition. The photograph is well balanced in terms of the colour placement. There is a sense of movement from left to right. Anywhere we look there information.

What does Julien-Fort’s experiment consist of?

PINHOLE PHOTOGRAPHY

Bahrami explains that the experiment is two-fold. The artist uses a primitive pinhole camera, and she mixes the old with the new.

Révélations anticipées (les camions), like all photographs in the exhibition, was taken with a pinhole camera, or camera obscura, essentially a box with a very small hole, which replaces the lens, and no viewfinder or trigger. Long exposure times are required, from several minutes to several hours. Without the viewfinder, the artist can’t see what the photograph will actually look like; she can only estimate and use her skill to position the camera in a way that will give her the desired image.

CHEMICAL MANIPULATION

Part two of the experiment happens in the darkroom where the artist manipulates the chemical process to give each photograph a specific look.

In Révélations anticipées (les camions) the orange smudges are intended. The distressed look of the final image is not a result of camera failure or improper handling of the negatives; it is the artist’s skilful manipulation of the photographic materials. Any darkroom “accidents” are welcome.

Why would the artist want to make her images look so flawed?

ABSTRACT STORYTELLING

To fully appreciate the reason why Julien-Fort made Révélations anticipées (les camions) look so flawed and unrefined, we need to see the exhibition as a whole. Révélations anticipées (les camions) is part of a cluster of photographs of various sizes that tells a story.

“The images are like snapshots taken after an unknown cataclysm, evoking an apocalyptic prophecy,” says Julien-Fort. “The audience is invited to reconstruct a history from fragments, as if they were trying to solve an enigma of a possible end of the world.”

Looking at Révélations anticipées (les camions), and at the whole constellation the artist assembled, it is easy to see how this method and style suits the story. It helps evoke the eerie, unsettling feeling of a movie about the aftermath of a cataclysm or the end of the world.

“I try to create tension between the fictional gaps introduced by traces of colour on the surface of the image and the reality captured with my camera,” says Julien-Fort. “I encourage the viewer to consider our responsibility for the destruction of our environment.”

In the context of the exhibition and the story it tells, Révélations anticipées (les camions) looks like a fragment of a message from a lost spaceship, or the future or past. All that is missing is white noise on the screen, interrupting the message.

SCALE

Révélations anticipées (les camions) is a large, nearly square photograph, slightly larger than a 50-inch flat TV screen. To take the image in, you need to step back, put some distance between you and the artwork, and give yourself room.

Set on its own wall at the gallery, the image demands attention. The artist, however, doesn’t make it as easy as that for us when it comes to the rest of the exhibition, as if she was stressing that the story won’t tell itself. Whether we want to or not, she puts us to work.

“The photographs are of various sizes,” says Julien-Fort. “It is a strategy that allows me to actively involve the viewer. When we discover a large photograph, we generally look at it from a distance. Smaller images require us to approach them in order to find out what is there. Looking closely we can discover any traces of dust, scratches and textures on the surface.”

This moving forward and stepping back keeps us engaged and focused, and participating.

Révélations anticipées (Early Revelations)
Until February 17
Voix Visuelle
67 Beechwood Avenue (2nd floor)
Ottawa, Ontario
Google Map

Tuesday to Saturday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Révélations anticipées is an installation of abstract and figurative photos that show contemporary subjects but are reminiscent of old photography. Inspired by fatalist speeches from scientists and environmental groups, Janie Julien-Fort created an imaginary space for the viewer to contemplate our future.

Born in Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, Janie Julien-Fort now lives and works in Montreal. Her work revolves around photography and cinema. She is particularly interested in the photosensitive materials in the context of digital imagery. The physical, mechanical, chemical, and optical properties of photography are very present in her art. She works with alternative processes such as Polaroid transfer, photomechanical processes and pinhole cameras. Research and experimentation are also key because the outcomes greatly influence her projects. She embraces photographic mistakes and accidents for their expressive potential and the fact that they can reveal the nature of the medium.

Learn more about Janie Julien-Fort and see more examples of her work:

janiejfort.com

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