Michel Campeau, Darkroom/Chambre Noire

Michel Campeau. Sans Titre. Darkroom (2005-2006)

Darkroom - Chambre Noire
On the obsolescence of the sliver gelatin process in the age of digital reproduction
De la désuétude argentique à l'ère de sa reproductibilité numérique


Twice this morning Walter Benjamin has been evoked.  Benjamin liveth. 

Michel Campeau has just been given the Duke and Duchess of York Prize in Photography from the Canada Council.  The CC press release states that 'Michel Campeau has been part of the contemporary photography scene for four decades. His work explores the subjective and narrative dimensions of photography, that contrast with the conventions of documentary photography', which tells us precisely nothing. 
However, on the web is a site for the Darkroom project, series of photos of darkrooms —'a monography of images articulated around the decline of sliver-gelative photography, taking as my object the obsolescence of the darkroom.'

One could see this as an homage to a lost art form: the trays, the darkness, the rickety wires and clothespegs -- something very romantic, but this work isn't romantic at all.  The darkrooms are photoographed in the glare of the flashbulb in all their tawdriness, in all their squalor, actually.  The distance between these ad hoc environments, surely the only environments where appearance does not matter as they exist only in the dark, and the products produced in these environments is immense.  The clinically beautiful iMacs used now will never be the subject of such a photo project.  Pixels and levels adjustments have no physicality, the terrors of virtual reality where all is disembodied came with the first point-and-shoot digital camera. 

Campeau however has a classical photographer's eye: the subject matter is at once interrogated for its really pathetic expedience while rendered beautiful.  The photo above, the poetically identified CRW3446 – layers of plywood partitions hacked through with a skilsaw for a drainpipe, is phenomenally eerie, beautiful in its details: the splintered paint surface, the necklace of steel strapping, the hose clamps, the crossed lines at the corners of the openings as if it had been casually drafted with a sawblade.  It is a most lovely thing, graphically, abstractly, and in its capture of a very human struggle with obdurate building materials.