Une sale affaire

"Always squeeze the shutter release as you do the trigger on your gun" - Crime Scene Photography course, RCMP

The driver and his truck sank into the river’s icy waters. The image of a man — the owner of a house near the scene of the tragedy — is broadcast over the media. Emmanuelle Léonard’s Une sale affaire (“dirty business”) brings the investigation to life, with all the mundane details and the flurry of spawned documents. Here, though, investigative procedures accompany a photographic fiction that brings something new to the evidence: the image itself.

With her previous series, "Les travailleurs" (2002), "Les travailleurs de l’église Sainte-Rita", Nice (2003), and "Les marcheurs" (2004), Léonard had seasoned us to a practice midway between conceptualism and photo-journalism. Her investigation of realism, often expressive of a social universe, here leads her to question the objectivity of the photographic document, considered from a judicial perspective. To be accepted in court, police photography must respect simple though strict guidelines meant to ensure efficiency and objectivity, as summed up in the statement: "The photograph must not appeal to the emotions" - Field Evidence Technician Course, California State University. Applying this rule to picture-taking, Léonard circumscribes every angle, every exit from a building. The intent is to take pictures that reconstruct the scene leading up to the investigation. These photographs and a brief noirish video sequence call us to witness. The camera’seye attempts to persuade us. But of what crime?

In the basement corridors leading to the archives at the Quebec City court house, Léonard has access to items of evidence for closed cases, among them photographs taken by the police. Numbered and bound, they are free to be consulted and photocopied for they no longer have any judiciary use. In a sense, they’ve returned to the public domain, like the events recounted in the second hall of the gallery. Elsewhere, equipped with a portable radio, Léonard listens in on police communications, on the lookout for incidents requiring immediate action. Thus equipped, and attentive to what’s happening on TV and the Internet, she observes public events, follows press photos: accidents, raids, shootings, drownings. While a picture printed in the newspaper is meant to elicit emotion, police photos muster the evidence. Between the photo attached to a police report and exhibitions in the printed press, between the programmed neutrality of the one and the sensationalist intentions of the other, can we measure the visual divide?
- Translated by Ron Ross

Special thanks to Jean-Pierre Aubé, Roberto Pellegrinuzzi, Georges Aubin, Jean-Pierre Bourgault, Mathias Delplanque, Luc Laforce (of the Journal de Montréal), Christiane Bourdua (from the City of Montreal’s police department, or SPVM), Mélanie Lajoie (Division des communications, SPVM), M. Caumartin (Division de l’identification, SPVM), the art centres Est-Nord-Est, Optica, and the Fondation Christoph Merian, and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.


2007 Une sale affaire, Optica gallery, Montreal

Noyade, Rivière-des-Milles-Îles, Laval
Noyade, Rivière-des-Milles-Îles, Laval, 2007
Ink-jet print, 122 cm x 92 cm

Perquisition, rue Malicorne, Anjou
Perquisition, rue Malicorne, Anjou, 2007
Ink-jet print, 122 cm x 92 cm

Angle Nord Ouest
Angle Nord Ouest, 2007
Ink-jet print, 147,5 cm x 107 cm

Angle Sud Ouest
Angle Sud Ouest, 2007
Ink-jet print, 147,5 cm x 107 cm

Angle Sud Est
Angle Sud Est, 2007
Ink-jet print, 147,5 cm x 107 cm

Angle Nord Est
Angle Nord Est, 2007
Ink-jet print, 147,5 cm x 107 cm

Fusillade, rue Rimouski, Brossard
Fusillade, rue Rimouski, Brossard, 2007
Ink-jet print, 122 cm x 92 cm

Accident, avenue Irwin, Montréal
Accident, avenue Irwin, Montréal, 2007
Ink-jet print, 122 cm x 92 cm