Colloque, 23 octobre 2010

Make it New(s): Photographic Modernism and the Representation of Contemporaneity in The Canadian Magazine

Zoë Tousignant
Imaginaires du présent: Photographie, politique et poétique de l’actualité, événement organisé par Vincent Lavoie et Mirna Boyadjian

Between 1893 and 1939, The Canadian Magazine provided Canadian readers with a picture of the country’s transformation into a modern industrialized nation. In the 1920s and 1930s photography progressively invaded the editorial space and became a vital tool for the representation of Canadian modernity. Within the magazine, photographs were soon inseparable from the periodical’s overt attempt to depict the contemporaneity of Canada – an attempt fuelled by a desire to assert the country’s cultural independence from its increasingly domineering neighbour, the United States. Yet paradoxically, many of the photographs used to illustrate Canada’s contemporaneity were documents of either past or “timeless” events. In this essay I argue that The Canadian Magazine nonetheless succeeded in depicting contemporaneity through the application of a specific visual language: photographic modernism. I propose that within the context of early twentieth-century illustrated magazines, news photography was not required to literally represent the new but could “make it new” by exploiting avant-garde stylistic strategies. Through an investigation of photographs published in The Canadian Magazine, I show how the visual language of photographic modernism was used to “imagine” a view of Canada as a culturally and politically mature country, and as such a valuable member of the international community of modern nations.

Zoë Tousignant is a Ph.D. student in Art History at Concordia University. Her doctoral research concerns photographic modernism in Canadian illustrated magazines between 1925 and 1945. She holds a Master’s degree in Museum Studies from the University of Leeds, England, and a B.A. in Art History from Concordia University.

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