Department of Art History & Communication Studies, Faculty of Arts
My doctoral research examines the photographic production of contemporary North American Indigenous artists who address the history and enduring legacy of colonization in their work. My argument encompasses three central claims: (1) a pervasive state of catastrophe in North America is disclosed in the work of contemporary Indigenous artists who employ photography to expose the origins of current crises in the history of colonization; (2) by engaging with the medium’s fraught history as a tool of colonial control and its persistently problematic associations with indexicality and evidentiary authority, these artists expose photography itself to be experiencing an ethical crisis; and (3) soliciting a form of responsible engagement from the viewer, these works necessitate the development of critical and durational spectatorial strategies that can be extended to both historical and contemporary photographs.
While my project primarily concerns the work of contemporary artists, historical photographs figure heavily in my discussion. Occupying a profound and privileged position in the history of colonial representation, photography’s assumed indexicality has played a significant role in the construction and consolidation of Indigenous peoples as “other” to European settler society. Indeed, the excessive photographic representation of Indigenous peoples for ethnographic and entertainment purposes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries cemented stereotypes of a single and homogenous “Imaginary Indian” that is perpetually reproduced in contemporary imagery, advertising and popular culture. Coeval with this photographic legacy of frontier fantasies is an extensive archive of images produced to promote Canada’s Residential School System and America’s Indian Boarding Schools, in order to demonstrate the success of these nations’ “civilizing” missions. These parallel photographic practices, in fact, elucidate the integral role of photography in the dual and contradictory program of simultaneous preservation and eradication at the heart of colonial ideology regarding the Indigenous peoples of North America. The juxtaposition of these two types of images illuminates the fundamental paradox of the colonial project that endeavoured to collect and conserve precisely those markers of Indigenous culture that were also the targets of aggressive assimilation, prohibition and punishment. As a Max Stern fellow with the McCord Museum and IPLAI, my research will be focused on examples of these types of images included in the Museum’s Notman Photographic Archive.
Much of the contemporary art worksexamined in my project draw direct attention to these divergent yet coexistent forms of photographic representation and the realities constructed, obscured or eliminated in processes of archival preservation. In the course of my investigation, I elaborate a series of aesthetic procedures employed by contemporary Indigenous artists who engage or interfere with historical photographs through processes of parody, masquerade, juxtaposition or direct archival intervention. These practices, I argue, canultimately be understood as attempts to decolonize photographic depiction and display by exposing, interacting with and overcoming the problematic associations and central tenets of photography’s history and theory.
Michael 'Max' Hamon
Department of History, Faculty of Arts
Michael ‘Max’ Hamon is a PhD candidate in the department of history at McGill University. He is a native of Prince Edward Island and has also lived in the Netherlands, Ireland, Hungary and Tajikistan. He holds a Masters of Arts in Medieval Studies from the Central European University (2003) and a Masters in Philosophy from Trinity College, University of Dublin.
Max Hamon’s current project is a dissertation on the life of Louis Riel a Métis leader who is considered the father of Manitoba and a defender of Métis national rights. Riel is one of the best known figures of nineteen-century Canadian history, yet there is little research done on his life outside of the Canadian Northwest. Hamon explores the intellectual, social and cultural milieu of Riel in the various overlapping worlds that he inhabited: Montreal, the British Empire, and the Canadian-US borderlands. The result of this research will be a genealogy of Riel that demonstrates the rich and complex influences of these worlds on Riel, and conversely how he, in his turn, influenced the environments in which he lived.
As a Max Stern fellow at the McCord Museum and with IPLAI, Max Hamon is investigating the material context of Riel in Montreal. By looking at photographs, texts, costumes, and other cultural artefacts he will explain how a Métis experienced nineteenth-century Montreal. Very little in depth research has been done on Riel as a young college student despite the fact that it was arguably the most formative stage in his life. In this period Montreal operated as an imperial hub for the colonization of the Northwest, and as a result it became implicated in a tangled web of imperial relations. This research will highlight the role that Montreal played in the multiple strategies that were employed by Canada to establish a cultural hegemony in the West. Finally, this research will tell the story of one of Montreal’s most famous sons and his legacy for this city.
Department of Art History & Communication Studies, Faculty of Arts
Over the course of the 2012-13 academic year, with the support of a Max Stern McCord Museum Fellowship, I had the opportunity to consult the McCord’s extensive archival holdings relating to Arctic travel and visuality, particularly in Subarctic Labrador.
My proposed research sought to focus on three photographic collections held by the McCord: those of the young naval officer, Fred Berchem, that document his service with the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in northern Newfoundland and Labrador over a period of seven years, and in the process assemble a remarkable series of albums that portray the region’s local populations and their diverse practices and artefacts of living; the albums of Captain Mack which present a comprehensive survey of HBC interests in the North; and, finally, a set of more than one hundred photographs taken by William McFarlane Notmanthat draw a portrait of his 1908 trip to the region and simultaneously document and aestheticize many aspects of life in its Subarctic environment, such as the commercial fishery, and the ‘views’ of its dispersed outport settlements. These three projects of collection constitute a comprehensive visual projection of the supposed ‘remoteness’ of northern Newfoundland and Labrador, while also emphasizing its profound ‘connectedness’ to the international trade interests of the HBC.
Given that my doctoral project constitutes an unconventional ‘media’ history of the Grenfell Mission of Newfoundland and Labrador, it was crucial to examine this visual material to garner a better understanding of the regimes of representation that were in operation, as well as the region’s extent material culture. In addition, an important section of my dissertation takes a closer look at a crucial player in the Grenfell Mission story, Dr. Alexander Forbes, an eminent physiologist, faculty member of the Department of Physiology at the Harvard Medical School, and amateur explorer and cartographer. Starting in the 1920s, Forbes and the medial missionary Wilfred Grenfell began a correspondence that would ultimately lead to their unprecedented project of mapping the North Coast of Labrador from the air. Caught up in the early, innovative and experimental years of aviation, Forbes and Grenfell struck up a partnership that went outside of the typical channels open to the philanthropist and his cause. The end result was the 1938 book Northernmost Labrador Mapped from the Air, published by the American Geographical Society. Yet the intangible benefits of this tracing of Labrador’s remote coastline are still felt to this day.
Grenfell and Forbes undertook this project through the recently invented (and, at the time, yet to be perfected) method of oblique aerial photography. The Mission’s persistent need to survey a geographic extent made up a principal, if somewhat misacknowledged, ideological tenet of its broad missionary practices. The opportunity to contrast the collection projects of Berchem, Mack, and Notman with this aerial mapping project, and its associated political, cultural, and aesthetic implications of, respectively, spatial control, new forms of transportation access, and a bird’s-eye view of landscape, has been an invaluable resource in determining the interplay between aerial and “ground” visual cultures in the region from roughly the late nineteenth century to the start of the Second World War.
In relation to my thematic focus of Arctic visuality, I also collected a wealth of visual materials (largely photographs) of icebergs off the coasts of Newfoundland and Labrador. This material will inform my next major research project, “Living Iceberg Alley: The New Media of Natural Resources,”that seeks to gain a more precise understanding of the history of the encounter between icebergs and human actors in the geographical region known as “Iceberg Alley”—an area that extends from the glaciers of the western coast of Greenland to Baffin Island and south past the Grand Banks of Newfoundland—from roughly the middle of the nineteenth century to today. It will raise questions related to the changing human and natural ecologies of climate change, the evolution of so-called “ice technologies” and their links to communication technologies such as radar, and the future characterizations and challenges of Arctic and Subarctic mobility in North Atlantic waters with less and thinner sea ice, and larger and more frequent icebergs. I will examine icebergs as objects at the intersection of nature and culture that have a history pieced together from their various encounters with human activity. My goal is to critically examine the manner in which icebergs have been a central node in an historical assemblage of knowledge, science, technology, ecology, economy, and culture.
In a similar vein, my time with the McCord collections also allowed me to discover its fascinating if limited holdings relating to the Bowater Paper Corporation. The McCord’s miscellaneous holdings include the company’s commercial printing publications, with the visually stunning corporate magazine, The Bowater Papers, providing the groundwork for my second ongoing project, “Paper Trails,” that I have undertaken on a smaller scale and have assembled over my time in various archives in addition to the McCord. This project constitutes a cultural history of paper in Canada in the 1950s. Centered around the activities of the Bowater Paper Corporation and their role in what is widely considered the apex moment of North American paper bureaucracies in the post-World War II period, my aim is to examine how paper came to be such an integral technology to the Canadian workplace. Drawing on Bowater paper mill designs, the firm’s industrial organizational ideologies, and this in-house magazine, The Bowater Papers, that began publication in 1950, I will trace how paper was a material and immaterial network in 1950s Canada that extended from natural resources to post-industrial technologies.
Department of Art History & Communication Studies, Faculty of Arts
This research was conducted during the 2012-2013 academic year. The project, titled “Black Women and the Photographic Canadian Portrait in the Nineteenth Century,” was an examination of nineteenth-century photographs of black women in Montreal. I argued that attention needed to be paid to how the photographic archive produced history, in addition to the historical context of its production. I also argued that it was important to draw comparisons between the photographs of black women and white women in order to theorize on issues related to race, class, and the body.
The photographs and prints I collected were used in the second chapter of my dissertation which is an analysis of race and hair in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century print and visual culture. These photographs serve as visual record of how black women and white women dressed, styled their hair, and were “seen” during the period. My larger project, titled “Cultivated Ideal: Race, Class and the Spectacle of Beauty in Canada, America and the Caribbean” is a comparative historical analysis of the intersections of race, class and the commodity spectacle of beauty culture. It explores the intersections between visual culture, consumerism and the body.
I mostly accessed the Notman Photographic Archive to complete the project. While there are hundreds of portraits of white women, there are substantially less portraits of black women but what I gained from this experience is that the quality of photographs is equally as important as the quantity of photographs.
Most of the images I used in my dissertation were digitized images in the Notman Photographic Archive and I also consulted the Paintings, Prints and Drawings collection. Unexpectedly, I used fewer photographs of white women than I originally anticipated, and found fashion prints quite useful to draw the distinction between the different ways in which black women and white women appeared during the late-nineteenth century. This proved quite effective as it illustrated the role print culture played in the cultivation of the beauty ideal.
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