PhD Oral Exam - Michel Hardy-Vallée, Art History
When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.
Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.
In this dissertation, I present a detailed case study of the photographic book Open Passport (1973), by Canadian photographer John Max (1936–2011), on the basis of primary and secondary sources, including newly discovered materials. The photographic book has recently emerged as an axis to organize photographic history. Max’s book, an iconic object in Canadian photography history, nevertheless raises significant challenges to disciplinary consensus. Open Passport is an exemplary work of variant performance that demonstrates the interdependence of different modes of photographic dissemination. It offers a major test case for notions of photographic meaning, artwork, medium, and history. Performing a series of analyses—semiotic, philosophical, and historical—on Open Passport, I show how books are important sites of photographic meaning, with qualifications. Including a constellation of variants and related works—such as photo-stories, exhibitions, motion pictures, and slide shows—the relevant art historical context of Open Passport upsets the modernist historiography of an autonomous medium favoured by recent studies of the photobook. I also draw attention to the historicity of knowledge and propose an application of philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer’s notion of fusion of horizons for understanding Open Passport in context as a belonging. The major contributions to knowledge of this dissertation are a renewed and extensive understanding of the work of John Max as a major artist, a more deeply reasoned study of the place of the photographic book within photographic history, as well as methodological innovations in the study of the photographic sequence.