Michel Campeau. Life Before Digital


Anonyme, Easter Greetings, about 1955. Collection de Michel Campeau

While in Montreal for a series of panels curated by HOLO magazine for the digital festival MUTEK, i felt the need (as i often do) to take a break from discussions about digital creativity. That’s how i ended up visiting the Michel Campeau retrospective at the McCord Museum. The title of the show was promising: Michel Campeau. Life Before Digital.

I wasn’t disappointed. Campeau is a wonderfully talented photographer with a strong interest for the history of photography and in particular the disappearance of analog tools and practices. Each of the series in the exhibition explores a material culture that used to suggest magic and craftmanship: the messy darkrooms with duct tape to fend off the light and wooden pegs to hang the images to dry; the colourful rolls of photo film and the iconic camera models; the amateur developer who gave way to the computer pixel specialist, etc.


Man in bow tie with woman looking at slide, c. 1955 (2015.) Series “Red Border Kodachrome”

Campeau’s homage to silver-based photography culture has a whiff of nostalgia but it’s one that’s never mushy nor mournful. The retrospective presents works executed between 2005 and 2017 as well as anonymous, amateur photographs from the 1950s and 60s. Shown together these images build a very moving, poetic and sometimes even humorous portrait of the rituals of pre-digital photography.


Industrial Splendour and Fetishism: The Bruce Anderson Collection. Sylvania Superflash Blue Dot 25 Flashbulb, Montreal Quebec, c. 1950. Photo via Eric Dupont gallery

Industrial Splendour and Fetishism : The Bruce Anderson Collection. Flash Canon, Tokyo, Japan / Flash Leitz, Wetzlar, Allemagne, c. 1950. Photo via Eric Dupont gallery

Industrial Splendour and Fetishism : The Bruce Anderson Collection. Sinclair Traveller Una, London, England, 1927. Photo via Eric Dupont gallery

Exhibition view of Michel Campeau. Life Before Digital. Photo: McCord Museum

Industrial Splendour and Fetishism are black room portraits of iconic cameras and accessories of the pre-digital era. The instruments look cumbersome, have a bit of a worn-out air but they remain beautifully engineered objects.


Exhibition view of Michel Campeau. Life Before Digital. Photo: McCord Museum

Brussels, Belgium, file no. 9845. Series “Darkroom”, 2005-2010

From the series “Darkroom”, 2005-2010

The Darkrooms is another tribute to analogue photography, this time focusing on spaces that are disappearing fast.

 

Read the rest of the article on Régine’s personal blog.

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