For Emmanuelle Léonard, photographs are expressions of social, cultural and political forces. Working in photography, video, film, animation and even the newspaper format, she engages with the conventions of documentary, press and forensic photography as well as video surveillance. In each new body of work, Emmanuelle questions such tenets as artistic and legal authority, the nature of evidence, and perceptions of beauty. Her works tackle the persuasive nature of the photographic image, how it influences young minds, relays power and performs as unbiased evidence in our justice systems, provoking her viewers to ask who creates photographs, for whom and to what end.
Citizens, Protest, March 15, 2009
In contrast to media images of protests that emphasize clashes between riot police and protesters, these photos focus on the police officers themselves. The large scale imparts a monumental feel, but Emmanuelle’s close-ups of the faces behind the face-guards serve to humanize the officers, as does the title Citizens — these are men at work, enforcing an idea of civil society.
National Assembly of Québec
These images, culled from the archives of the Palais de justice du Québec, were taken by a police photographer retracing the steps of gunman Denis Lortie, who killed 3 government employees and wounded 13 others at the National Assembly of Québec on May 8, 1984. By reproducing the photographs in a newspaper format, and arranging them in the same sequence as the archive, Emmanuelle emphasizes how different the police photographs are from images typically seen in the news media.
For Dirty Business, Emmanuelle navigates both the conventions of police photography and those of tabloid journalism. Where police photographers are taught to create photographs that do not appeal to the emotions, the press photographer’s images need to highlight the nature of the crime or accident. Her simple, descriptive titles for these dispassionate views of violent events lead us search the photographs, in vain, for visual evidence or titillating details.
For this work, twenty employees representing the twenty sectors of employment in Toronto were asked to take pictures of their workspaces, empty of its employees. In the installation, the size of each photograph is relative to the number of workers in the sector it represents. The images reveal the unique and idiosyncratic realities that exist behind our social systems and categories.
The Grange Prize 2012 Exhibition
A selection of Emmanuelle Léonard’s work is on view until January 6, 2013, as part of The Grange Prize 2012 Exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada.
On Beauty and Ugliness and Photography
In this video, filmed at a high school in Montreal, Emmanuelle asks teenage girls to describe a beautiful photograph as well as an ugly photograph. As the girls hem and haw, awkwardly fidgeting their way through their answers, you begin to see how powerful standards of beauty – as delivered through photographic images – can be, and how difficult it is to use words to describe an image, let alone an image in your head.
Guard, protect me
In this work, Emmanuelle walks the streets of Mexico City with a surveillance camera hidden in her hat, approaching uniformed officers, including some of the city’s estimated 12,000 private security guards. As the work unfolds, it becomes difficult to distinguish between police officer and uniformed guard, or even criminal, extending the artist’s ongoing investigation of structures
Emmanuelle Léonard was born in 1971 in Montreal, Quebec, where she currently lives and works. She holds a BA in Fine Arts from Concordia University and an MA in Visual and Media Arts from the Université du Québec à Montréal. She has several solo and group exhibitions to her credit, in cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Quebec City, Berlin and Paris, and most recently at the Quebec Triennial 2011. Léonard was the 2005 winner of the Prix Pierre-Ayot, which recognizes excellence in the visual arts in Montreal.