My father, who was a talented amateur photographer, was not a particularly affectionate or demonstrative man. Since I became a parent, I have slowly come to understand that my father expressed his love for his children primarily by the means of the systematic manner in which he photographed us. This insight has permitted me to recognize why I became a photographer and perhaps why, over the years, I frequently photographed myself.
This realization also prompted two new questions: why did my father become a photographer and why did he initiate me in this practice? This induction, solemnly conducted and documented by my father, occurred in the summer of 1967 when I was 11 years old. Since that day I have been completely obsessed with how the medium works (and doesn’t work). The initial impulse behind Before Photography was to explore my photographic relationship with my father, his interest in photography, and to study the photo-related popular iconography that pre-dates my own initiation into photography for clues as to why my father became interested in the practice.
Before Photography is composed of four sections. The first, Chuck’s Family Photos, consists of 3 photographs taken by my father, including one taken at the very instant that I became a photographer. Looking for images that possibly influenced my father (but only finding myself), the second section, entitled Chuck Goes to the Movies, inventories the figure of the photographer in cinema and television predating my initiation into the practice of photography. In The Last Words on Photography, I recount and document (not necessarily in that order) my father’s final words. With Chuck’s Home Movies, I am once more drawn to the moving images of my father’s era in an attempt to unearth what it was about the practice of photography that may have seduced my father.
Exploring this rich psychoanalytic terrain in pursuit of traces of my father, I became hopelessly lost and found myself wandering without direction amongst my own cinematic memories, the collective cinematic iconography of my father’s generation, and what I could only imagine to be his memories. Thus, while ostensibly autobiographical in nature, Before Photography finally turns out to be rather less about my relationship with my father and rather more of a mediated meditation on the representation of the photographer in the moving image, specifically in the popular culture of my father’s era.
Before Photography: Exhibition history
Solo shows (or solo projections of the videos from Before Photography):
2015 Galerie de l’Etrave, Thonon-les-Bains, France
2014 Chuck’s Home Movies (from Before Photography) & MOVIE/MUSIC, DAÏMÕN, Gatineau (projections presented by Available Light Screening Collective)
2013 Latitude 53 Gallery, Edmonton
2012 Festival Images, Vevey, Switzerland
Maison de la culture Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montréal*
Maison de la culture et communautaire de Montréal-Nord, Montréal*
Centre culturel de Dorval, Montréal*
Galerie Port-Maurice, Montréal*
2011 Maison de la culture Frontenac, Montréal*
2010 Centre Vu, Québec
Dazibao, centre de photographies actuelles, Montréal
*Before Photography was selected for “Montréal en tournée” a tour organized by Dazibao and Conseil des arts de Montréal in which the exhibition toured 6 cultural centres in the city.
Before Photography: Bibliography
2013 Sylvain Campeau, “Irrépressible tentation,” Before Photography Feuillet, Latitute 53, Edmonton, n.p.
Jules Arbec, “Chuck Samuels: Auto-Bio-Photographie,” Vie des arts, no. 230, Printemps 2013, p. 72-73
2011 Jacques Doyon, “Narrative Series,” Ciel variable, no. 87, January – May, 2011, p. 10, p. 3.
2010 Jean Gagnon, “Les identités faux fillées de Chuck,” Before Photography Feuillet, Centre Vu, Québec, Québec, n.p.
Virginie Doré Lemonde, “Chuck Samuels,” Ciel variable, no. 85, May – September 2010, p.68-69.
Nicolas Mavrikakis, “Photos d’identité,” Voir Montréal, 29/01/2010, p. 33.
Jérôme Delgado, Quelques vérités photograpiques, Le Devoir, Les samedi 23 et dimanche 24 janvier, 2010 p. E-9.
Before Photography: Images published
2011 Ciel variable, no. 87, January – May, 2011, p. 10, p. 30 – 38.
Before Photography: Acquisitions
2013 Cinémathèque québécoise, Montréal
2012 Le Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec: Collection Prêt d’oeuvres d’art, Québec
Before Photography: Exhibition and edition details
Before Photography is made up of four distinct but related sections (listed below). The installation of these four components creates a kind of photographic and cinematographic world with very little in the way of actual photos or film. Before Photography is a continuance of the photographic, video and installation works that I have been producing since the early 1980s that question how photography and film function (and malfunction). Many of these projects included images of myself.
• Section 1: Chuck’s Family Photos
The only “real” photographs in Before Photography are 3 images taken by my father. These are printed 112 x 172 cm (44 x 68 inches) and pinned directly to the wall. They consist of a self-portrait of my father in which the camera is visible; a recently discovered portrait of my mother taken before her children were born (that, contrary to everything I saw as a child, indicates that at one point my mother and father loved one another and that my father expressed this love primarily through photography); and a portrait of me at age 11 taken by my father – the first shot on the first roll of film I ever exposed – at the very moment in which I became a photographer.
• Section 2: The Last Words on Photography
I have videotaped myself being photographed next to photos that I have taken of my father as I recount the story of my father’s last words. Like memory, the story is told repeatedly and each telling is layered upon another, rendering the narrative extremely difficult to follow and the images arduous to read. The video ends with an uncomfortably long shot in which I pretend I am in a photograph and stay as still as I can. This 3½ minute video is projected as a continuous loop on the wall of a darkened section of the exhibition space – the projection will be as large as the space and lighting allows. If a projection is not possible, the video could be presented on a wall-mounted monitor.
• Section 3: Chuck Goes to the Movies
I researched the representation of photographers in the cinema and television of my father’s era (or, more specifically, the era before I became a photographer) seeking images that I imagine may have initiated his interest in photography. I have then inserted myself into these images seeking to reinvent myself as the inspiration for my father’s enthrallment with photography. Chuck Goes to the Movies consists of 108 of these images shown in a massive grid of 4 horizontal rows of 27 images each. Each framed image is about 30.5 x 24 cm (9½ x 12 inches).
• Section 4: Chuck’s Home Movies
These videos look back again to a variety of films (almost all produced before my introduction to photography) through the lens of contemporary practices; literally and figuratively reconsidering my own place within the canon of cinema. The soundtracks of these short videos are completely constructed from soundtracks from other films and include bits of evocative and incongruous dialogue, often alluding to film and photography. These videos echo, but in a different way, the chaotic density of The Last Words on Photography. Composed of 5 short videos of 3 to six minutes each, Chuck’s Home Movies runs a total of 24½ minutes. Each short video is entitled Scene 1, Scene 2, etc. and they are shown in sequence (and in a continuous loop) simultaneously on one or two wall mounted monitors with headphones. A bench should be provided for more comfortable viewing.
Technical Specifications & Requirements
The exhibition consists of 4 sections. Ideally the work would be shown in the order indicated below, but compromises related to the shape of the space or lighting considerations could be accepted. Each section, however, should be shown together in the same or adjacent spaces.
Please note: Two complete exhibition copies of Before Photography are available, one in Canada and one in Europe. The general technical details for both copies and the shipping info for the Canadian copy of the exhibition are below.
Chuck’s Family Photos
Adequate wall space to hang 3 vertical unmounted 112 x 172 cm (44 x 68 inches) photographs and appropriate lighting.
The Last Words on Photography
A space large and dark enough to project a large image
1 DVD player that can play DVD-R or DVD+R (NTSC) in a continuous loop.
1 Digital projector that can project the image as large as the gallery space allows at an adequate brightness
1 Sound system adequate for the above application
(If a projection is not possible, the video could be presented on a 40” wall-mounted monitor.)
Chuck Goes to the Movies
Roughly 9.25 meters (30 feet) of running wall space to hang a grid of 108 framed photos with appropriate lighting.
Chuck’s Home Movies
A slightly darkened space large enough to have one or two wall mounted monitors (more monitors can be discussed) connected to a single DVD player (if there is more than one monitor the videos will play simultaneously on all the monitors).
1 DVD player that can play DVD-R or DVD+R (NTSC) in a continuous loop.
2 identical 30 inch (or larger) flat screen monitors (2 identical standard 30 inch or larger monitors on platforms would be an acceptable compromise)
2 headphones for above.
Shipping (of the entire Canadian copy of Before Photography):
Each framed print from Chuck Goes to the Movies is individually wrapped then packed in 4 wooden shipping crates, each one 75 x 38 x 61 cm x 27.5 kg (29½ x 15 x 24 inches x 60 lbs). The 3 prints from Chuck’s Family Photos are rolled together and shipped in a wooden crate 28 x 32 x 127 cm x 18 kg (11 x 12½ x 50 inches x 40 lbs). 2 copies each of both DVDs (Chuck’s Home Movies and The Last Words on Photography) are one of the 4 crates with Chuck Goes to the Movies.
The prints from Chuck Goes to the Movies (from Before Photography) are available in sets of 6 specific images (from different sections of the grid) and are an edition of 15 prints. In addition, the artist keeps 2 exhibition prints and one artist’s proof of each image.