Tristan Lajarrige is an interdisciplinary artist living and working between Montréal and Boston. Through photography, video, performance, design, and text, he investigates the hegemony of lens-based technology in a post-pandemic era. Tristan holds a Master of Fine Arts at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Concordia University. His work has been exhibited in Canada and the United States as part of exhibitions in galleries such as Emerson Contemporary and Panopticon Gallery. In April 2022, his photography project Hiding Piece (2021) was also displayed on an 80-foot-tall LED marquee outside the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. During his graduate studies, Tristan has been awarded a Montague Travel Grant and Dean’s Research Award. His work can be found in the collections of Sid Lee, the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal, and the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library.
Like a gun, the camera can influence the behavior of its subjects – or targets – by threatening to transform their living bodies into mere inanimate objects. While critically investigating the violent history of the camera, I explore ways in which photography and technology contribute to the militarization of the everyday, mainly through surveillance. I am particularly interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic has further empowered lens-based technology by normalizing its presence inside the domestic space and heightening our desire to photograph our post-pandemic adventures. During the last three years of partial confinement, performing for the authoritative gaze of the camera has become embedded in our daily routine at home. Additionally, self-documenting our activities and travels has never been so tempting as we are bound to our cameras and cell phones to prove our lives are once again exciting. My current projects draw from these two arguments to suggest that COVID-19 lockdowns have made us prisoners of a digital panopticon that actively continues to pervade private and public spaces.
In The Camera Is the New Monument (2022) and Camera Ads (2022), I stress the underlying hegemony of the camera by comparing it to the monument and gun. In other projects, such as Famous Tourist Attractions (2022–ongoing), How to Cope with Zoom Fatigue (2022), Hiding Piece (2021), and How to Clean Your Computer (2021), I challenge the recently enhanced authority of the camera and computer by diverting them from their intended uses. Considering that the pandemic has deepened our dependence on the very devices that surveil us, I combine photography with performance, play, satire, and subversion to disarm objects that have obtained too much control. Running and hiding from cameras, draining their batteries on repetitive and useless tasks, as well as deliberately mistreating my computer by washing it with water and soap are methods for undermining the excessive power of these devices. By participating in such rebellious acts, I hope to gain some semblance of privacy and agency in today’s semi-virtual world.
I document these performances through sleek, precise, and orderly photographs and meticulously written instructions, which are then printed and displayed as part of large-scale installations. The grid is a recurrent structure in my work, as it enables me to combine thousands of pictures from a performance into a massive contact sheet, in addition to reflecting the systematic methodology behind my projects. For example, in making Famous Tourist Attractions, I traveled across Canada, the United States, and Europe, attached a camera on a tripod, and aimed the device at the sky above tourist attractions I would have been expected to photograph, such as Niagara Falls, Yellowstone National Park, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Upon arriving at these sites, I activated the time-lapse mode on the camera, allowing it to take pictures at regular intervals. While it automatically shot a photograph every second or so, I could look at the attraction through my eyes instead of through a viewfinder. I would gaze at each site until the camera died, forcing me to contemplate the scenery for longer than I normally would have. I then created grids with the images of the sky, each digital collage titled after the location it was shot at. In projects like Famous Tourist Attractions that misuse the camera to interfere with the capitalist ethos of self-surveillance, I invite viewers to question whether I actually traveled to these attractions, exposing our reliance on photographic evidence for what we believe to be true in a post-pandemic era.
Headshot by Philippe Richelet