From its earliest days to its theorization in the 1970s by Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes to its post-conceptual presentation at recent shows like the Guggenheim’s “Haunted,” photography has long been understood as a ghostly medium, one that immortalizes people and moments and thus presents them as, to varying degrees, uncanny. Montreal- and Glasgow-based photographer Fiona Annis’ macabre, elegiac new show, opening this week at Galerie McClure, alters the camera’s immortalizing process somewhat, looking for traces of life, or at the very least presence, at famous sites of artist deaths.
Entitled “Swan Song,” the show appears to pivot on Virginia Woolf, who drowned herself in Sussex’s River Ouse: the titular work displays a swan swimming amid the reeds of that body of water. Other views of the Ouse are appropriately gloomy—the water rippling and black, the sky overcast and stormy, as if we are seeing it from the author’s perspective. These works overlap with ones featuring Tom Thomson’s death site, Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake, and that of conceptualist Bas Jan Ader, who was lost off the coast of Ireland attempting to cross the Atlantic. Other types of sites are also pictured, like the path Walter Benjamin trod to his suicide site in Portboum, Spain, and the area near the Dakota apartment building in New York where John Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. Related texts accompany, with one in particular aptly linking art with its creator’s end: Montaigne’s famous maxim, following Cicero, that “to philosophize is to learn how to die.” (350 ave Victoria, Montreal QC)