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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Samuel Gaudreau-Lalande, Art History

A rhetoric of the commonplace. The Service de ciné-photographie du Quebec and rural modernization, 1940-1961.

Date & time
Friday, June 9, 2023
10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



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.


Between 1940 and 1961, the Quebec government's audiovisual agency, the Service de ciné-photographie (SCP), amassed a considerable photographic collection of which approximately 100,000 images are preserved today. This corpus, produced by nearly 500 civil servant photographers, mostly amateurs, is made up of ordinary photographs, none of which have gone down in history as iconic of their era. That said, they were not without effect. The Quebec government commissioned all these images over such a long period of time because they were serving its purposes.

This thesis proposes that the SCP's photographic production was deliberately lacklustre, putting forward a rhetoric of the commonplace whose aim was to accelerate the modernization of a rural society that was still largely traditional in 1940. In a departure from the longstanding practice of iconic images of power, this discreet propaganda puts forward the production of individually banal images whose strength lies in their mass action. This thesis argues that banality is a major strategy in statist visual communication of the twentieth century, corresponding to the rise of the masses to power in the same period. This strategy is part of the general trend toward increased power of the state in the everyday life of the people, a power made effective by a bureaucracy motivated by the desire to improve the general standard of living of the population.

An analysis of the SCP program allows us to understand this rhetoric of the banal whose mechanisms were visible throughout the West at the same time. In Quebec, the SCP particularly supported the modernisation of rural society, which it accelerated by visually normalising the resulting social changes. The organization's photographs, supporting a process of profound societal transformation whose foundations remain unquestioned, show the banality of good operating at full power.

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