Photography has long been considered a science by many. Meaning images that directly document science come with a specific type of irony. Guillaume Simoneau’s book “Experimental Lake” is an exploration of this irony and an attempt at making the research done at the Experimental Lakes Area (a vast 58 freshwater lake compound in northern Canada) something that appears whimsical and comprehensible to the viewer.
While it is known as one of the most important hubs for environmental research the ELA is extremely large and most of their research is complex and fairly obscure to individuals without any prior knowledge of what scientists are up to in these northern Ontario lakes. Often, these lakes are used to study fish, effects of diverse chemicals on fresh water, and in a broad sense the effects of climate change on freshwater lakes. However, Guillaume Simoneau seems more interested in the surreal nature of a scientist’s existence within a secluded area and how visually abstract the world of environmental research can be.
We find Guillaume honing in on the strange shapes, colors, and lights that we often associate with a lab or experiment setting. Strange dioramas, odd colors, people performing alien tasks, watching the way the water moves, this is science after all. While I don’t necessarily feel like I understand more about the ELA from Simoneau’s book, I find that he has the ability to bring an intense feeling of humanity and intimacy to the work done in the forests in northern Canada. At times Lynchian in nature Simoneau balances the strange and the tender. A man peels an orange, lily pads rest on top of a pond, a swarm of what appear to be dragonflies’ whiz by, the last image in the book is of a desktop screensaver.
It almost all feels a little bit futile. To me this work raises even more questions than it gives answers. Is there an end to research? How long does it take to end up with the answer to an experiment? Simoneau is able to show the relationship between human and nature in a way that is often not seen. Man is rendered tiny, confused, and foreign. The strange mythical quality of the lakes’ consuming the thought and knowledge of humanity. The Earth is still so unknown and man is ignorant enough to act as though we know it all.
The irony here is, that despite all of our learning, and all that we do not know, we persist in the hopes that we will one day understand the inner workings of nature and how we can facilitate living alongside it without destroying it. Simoneau’s eye presents the beauty and absurdity in this otherwise futile task. Here the beauty is also the error and errors illuminate the path to greater knowledge. Esoteric, subtle, and absurd Experimental Lake is a victory laden with more questions than answers.
website: Guillaume Simoneau
review by Christian Michael Filardo
photo editing by Giada Pignotti
copyright © Guillaume Simoneau and PHROOM, all rights reserved