Isa Tousignant - Access Denied
Interview, Hour Magazine, September 6, 2007
THOMAS KNEUBÜHLER WATCHES OVER ST-HENRI WATCHING OVER ITSELF
For his contribution to this year's excellent edition of the Mois de la Photo, Montreal-based, Swiss-born photographer Thomas Kneubühler was asked to step out of bounds. Curator Marie Fraser asked him to push the exploration of the growing trend toward private security he'd begun with his 2006 Private Property project into another field - that of public art. So he began work on Access Denied, a series of larger-than-life portraits of Montreal security guards photographed in their places of work and posted on buildings in the neighbourhood of St-Henri that Kneubühler noticed were particularly concerned with security.
Hour: What was most interesting about posting these works outside for you, and on the particular buildings you chose?
Thomas Kneubühler: (...) I chose locations where I felt there were either some security concerns, where it's not really clear to whom the land belongs. Another aspect that was also interesting for me is that in St-Henri, although it's not that visible, there's quite a bit of security cameras. So the project also turned out to be about surveillance. Surveillance happens every day but we're not really aware of it. It's something that's hidden, and I think with my project it becomes a bit more visible. While you need a permit from the City of Montreal to put a security guard on the wall, you don't need permission to put a security camera pointing toward the public sidewalk. That all became part of the project.
Hour: How did you select the security guards themselves?
Kneubühler: (...) I hired them all from real security companies, and I paid them all. They were all also blind dates - I didn't know how they looked before I shot them, before I had the actual appointment. I called security companies and explained the project, and there was kind of the same reaction as the building owners, many of them said 'No way!' But then I found some who were willing to participate. In that sense, it makes the photos borderline fiction/documentary; they are real security guards, they are shot on location where they are security guards, but on the other hand it's also staged. It's arranged.
Hour: And why did you choose St-Henri?
Kneubühler: St-Henri is known as a poor neighbourhood, and especially in the area around the metro station there are security issues. But it's a project that I could have done in another neighbourhood.