The Power of the Image

Ambitious, persuasive, seductive, sometimes insidious, authoritarian or violent, always fascinating – images abound. This proliferation no doubt explains the fact that our times are currently defined as a society of the image. With the generalization of live TV and the advent of the Internet, the image has now reached a new stage and is engaged with much assurance in the era of globalization. Images now circulate, in the industrialized world, at such a speed that they reach thousands of individuals, in all corners of the new map created by networking, simultaneously. If the era of telecommunications has allowed for the massive circulation of images, has the global village also ensured the universality of their content? Are images themselves tending to become “global”?

Today, everyone recognizes that the visual universe in which we are immersed helps to compose our mental representations. Images ineluctably shape us, and thus our perceptions, actions, attitudes, and behaviours are likely to be conditioned by them. The proof is the colossal investments made by the cultural industries and the media in marketing and the huge budgets devoted to advertising. As it takes global dimensions, the economy allows mega-corporations to fabricate images based on the expectations, desires, and aspirations of the majority. The messages, values, and ways of life that movie, media, and advertising conglomerates promote is becoming uniform. Of course, their images differ from each other’s, but many of them are based on similar structures and codes: they repose essentially on the comfort of repetition, immediate communication, and the rapid assimilation of meaning.

The power of such a “global image” is, of course, disquieting, as Ignacio Ramonet emphasizes. He deplores the fact “that it reduces human beings to a mass state and impedes the structuring of emancipated individuals, capable of discerning and deciding freely; that it replaces, in the minds of citizens, the legitimate aspiration to independence and awareness with perilously regressive conformity and passiveness; finally, that it legitimizes the idea that people wish to be fascinated, led astray, and deceived in the confused hope for a sort of hypnotic satisfaction that will make them forget, for an instant, the absurd, cruel, and tragic world in which they live.”1 The global image fabricates a collective sensibility while ensuring that each individual recognizes himself or herself in it. Thus, even while we think we are seeing images, it is, rather, ideological designs upon us that we are consuming.

The ambition of this seventh edition of Mois de la Photo à Montréal is to question the stakes related to these new powers of the image. Pooling the research of artists, exhibition curators, and image experts, the biennale becomes an exceptional laboratory for understanding the mutations of the image in contemporary culture. A number of artistic practices today, in fact, are affected by these important issues. They bring to light the rhetorical strategies of producers of global images; take apart the formal codes and conventions of Hollywood cinema and television images; destabilize advertising images by parodying their tactics or imitating their slogans; restage images from political and sports news; or make ironic comments on the representations of masculinity and femininity widely used by fashion and advertising. No matter which attitude is adopted, however, what each of these practices demonstrate, as the texts accompanying them here eloquently attest, is how much the aesthetic experience still has the power to make us take a more critical and attentive look at all of these images that we consume so eagerly. In addition to questioning the future of images, the theme “The Power of the Image” also questions power relations. It thus highlights the need to observe the image and its link to the social field and requires that we probe its modalities of interaction. Power, as Barbara Kruger explains in this catalogue, “is found in all our conversations, all our exchanges, in every face we kiss.” It essentially takes form in our relations with others. A number of artists, fascinated by the phenomenon, have decided to infiltrate the public space, creating interventions that encourage spectators, city dwellers, and pedestrians who encounter them to become active in their questioning. For although the power of the image is usually recognized by its impact on the individual looking at it – activating a diversity of reactions, from desire and attraction to persuasion and denunciation, from iconization to stigmatization – we might well think that the movement of this power is reversed when individuals appropriate the image to give it a unique meaning.

Thus, although mediatization and modalities of interaction, Though theseas two main phenomena linked to the image,its mediatization and itsmodalities of interaction, provide a structure for the present work, it is as a consequence the public – visitors to the galleries,book, it is the public (gallery-goers, pedestrians and passersby, TV viewers, we readers, and others -passerby, TV viewers, and even we readers) who travel through it from part to part.cover to cover. The public is the first group to be mobilized by this manifestation, since it is the reaction of viewersfrom viewers’ reactions to the images that informs uswe can learn about the true nature of those images’ power. Thus,Consequently, this thematic section of Le Mois de la Photo àMontréal, within which every efforts is made to multiply interactions between the art milieu and the public, to facilitate encounters, exchanges, and debates, is perhaps, more an observatory than a laboratory. This publication is its extension.even more than a laboratory, an observatory. Its extension is to be found in the following pages.


Marie-Josée Jean