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As early as , the government recognized that control over imagery was an indispensable component of its large-scale reconstruction projects, and it established internal photography and cinematography departments to promote and defend its policies. In this essay, I follow W.

The image forms part of the implementation of a discourse; it is an integral part of a media strategy that weaves text and image together into a specific staging, be it the graphic layout of a publication or the design of an exhibition.


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The institutional iconography to be considered here, with its combination of aerial and ground-level views, black and white and color, chemistry and pixels, initially supported the notion of a visionary state, seen as the builder of ideal modern housing complexes. It later accompanied a critical reversal in which that program was denounced as a disembodied policy leading to the gradual disintegration of these structures and ultimately their—figurative and literal—implosion at the end of the century.

This approach eventually culminated in the recognition of these structures as part of the national cultural heritage in a gesture that drew once again on images and their formal power, in this case to justify turning them into monuments. The analysis presented here revisits the history of the grands ensembles , building on previous studies to view them from a new perspective, that of the media, and more specifically that of institutional photographic production.

Although the term is in general use today, its definition is by no means an easy task. The expression itself did not represent a clearly identified category of urban or administrative action. This variety makes itself felt quite clearly whenever the attempt is made to strictly delimit the notion. This is how geographer Yves Lacoste tackles the problem in The grand ensemble thus appears as a unified and relatively autonomous complex of apartment buildings constructed in a relatively short period of time, according to a comprehensive plan that, roughly speaking, calls for more than a thousand units.

Theoretically excluded from these true grands ensembles —true because explicitly intended as such —are the many inorganic conglomerates formed by the accidental or intentional coalescence of multiple smaller adjacent pieces of real estate. Current historical analysis, however, has qualified this picture, emphasizing the constructed and artificial character of that heroic narrative.

Here again, intentions and practices seem to have collaborated to fashion a modified narrative of the historical sequence of the postwar period, in which architects, intellectuals, and politicians are seen as unanimous in their enthusiastic embrace of the modern ideal. Rotival was seeking to theorize a modern urbanism by developing a progressive set of reflections based on the Charter of Athens. The aim of the media strategy combining text and images is to highlight the promise of this modern architecture, despite the fact that it has not yet been realized in practice.

Far from being a tool for bearing witness to reality, here the image is used to propose a new dimension of the built environment and helps to construct a modern fiction. The discourse they adopted was based on the theses of the progressive movement in architecture combined with arguments that frequently refer to the society of the future. Idealizing rationality, they aspired to design a space that would be adapted to contemporary humanity conceived as a universal ideal type, which they sought to provide with a hygienic and harmonious living environment based on a separation of functions living, working, leisure, and circulation , organized in a geometric pattern.

In them, the grands ensembles are presented as the concrete harbingers of a city conceived and intended for humanity, ideal residential complexes in which one finds the importance attached to sun, space, and greenery by the modernist credo. Combining views from the ground and views from above, the buildings are pictured in such a way as to emphasize their forms, accentuating their clean lines and vast dimensions. Panoramic views avoided the distortions caused by monocular perspective, producing photographs that resembled geometric drawings.

The aerial photograph gradually lost its status as the document of a daring exploit and entered the pages of trade as well as mainstream publications. Indeed, the distance it permits from the subject became the instrument of a strategic vision. The airplane is an indictment. It indicts the city. It indicts those who control the city. By means of the airplane, we now have proof, recorded on the photographic plate, of the rightness of our desire to alter methods of architecture and town-planning.

It was used in two different ways. The first is purely cartographic and involves adopting a vertical viewpoint. The space is depicted in its entirety and looks like a map with no relief. The second is more specifically architectural and involves the adoption of an oblique perspective. This is the approach of special interest to us, since it conveys information about the built environment while also staging it in a spectacular manner.

The virtually unanimous preference for oblique views in the promotion of the grands ensembles was no doubt due to the fact that it made it possible to capture these complexes in their entirety, highlighting their overall structure while also providing an apparent legibility for uninformed viewers. Most importantly, however, the use of this vantage point opened up a new space of the gaze.

The distinguishing feature of oblique views is that they combine topography and perspective within a single image, the former being associated with geometric operations of measurement, the latter with figurative operations of representation. It presents the project of the modern city as a reality, giving it substance by installing it within the terrain of the contemporary world. Yet the implications of this perspective were not univocal. This simplified picture, coupled with the view overlooking the structures, is somewhat reminiscent of the cognitive function assigned to the observer by scale models.

They were successively symbols of the re constructive power of the state and of the development of a managerial and disembodied vision. Previously cast as the glorious achievements of a nation turned toward the future, they now became symbols of a planner state intoxicated with its power.

The point, for the architects, is not to please themselves by developing an a priori aesthetic. The point, for the engineers, is not blind faith in the primacy of a technology that becomes oppressive as soon as they forget that its primary mission is to serve. The point is to remain at the scale of man, whom one does not have the right to crush or to violate in the belief that one is prefabricating his happiness In a word, technology will be subordinated to human beings. Here, then, the aerial view is seen as being complicit in the development of a state-based approach to urban planning unilaterally imposed on anonymous territories and blind to the resulting social problems, which can only be perceived on the ground.

The latter posited the importance of everyday life practices in producing social space and sought to demonstrate their thesis with large-scale surveys for the Ministry of Reconstruction in the s. Thus, the proponents of a social approach were also the first champions of the potential of this new way of apprehending the physical world.

Metaphorically, the vertical perspective thus became the symbol of an inhuman destructive power. It is praised, for example, by geographers Pierre Deffontaines and Mariel J. At the end of the war, his black-and-white photographs had depicted picturesque suburbs of narrow cobbled streets and free-standing homes.

Forty years later, 59 he used color film and a large-format camera to depict a territory that had now become unrecognizable, bristling with modern grands ensembles. His compositions, which omit human figures and focus on structures, are organized around effects of scale and relations of planes and surfaces. When a ship pulled into port with a cargo of African slaves, Hachard made sure that her mail was put aboard for the return voyage to France.

Human initiative and oversight was crucial to transatlantic mail. Networks of informal mail agents emerged in the ports of France and New France. French correspondents trusted their outgoing colonial mail to these agents who were expected to put their letters aboard vessels working the Canada trade. Many agents were directly connected to the shipping business. Indeed, were it not for the merchant marine, there could have been no effective mail delivery across the Atlantic. Gradis was indispensable to Bigot for he was on intimate terms with the Duc de Choiseul, the royal official in charge of the colonies.

Having a mail agent on either side of the Atlantic was one means of ensuring that your letters got through. Given the vagaries of marine transport, other steps were taken to minimize the danger of a letter going astray. Correspondents sent multiple copies of the same letter on different ships. They sent mail via routes in which they had confidence. Upon learning that a route was more dangerous, they would simply stop using it.

To make it easier for their counterparts in France to discover whether a rupture in the flow of letters had occurred and to minimize the inconvenience, they would summarize the contents of a previous letter. To borrow a term from modern parlance, this was an exercise in risk management.


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Correspondents had to make do with les moyens du bord , because it was the only way to do business. Delay was taken in stride. The transatlantic postal connection consisted of informal networks operating in tandem with maritime commerce in the face of uncertain climate conditions.


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The transmission of written information over long distances was the main focus. A brief look at the continental perspective suggests a system made up of interlocking overland and waterway segments. Once the message or the messengers step ashore in the principal French ports of North America, a new set of rules dictated the flow of communication and authority. Some of the routes by which information travelled lay beyond normal channels of communication due to the unofficial nature of the transactions. Louisbourg, a threshold between the Atlantic and the Gulf of St.

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Lawrence, was an important link in the continental chain of command. It was an emporium of commerce and an outer rampart of defence, and attracted New England traders as well as French ones. The practice of trading outside the French empire caught some unawares. Endowed with a commission de guerre, he captured the vessel. Cottrell had broken a cardinal, if unwritten, rule of Louisbourg commerce: Business with les anglais was not to be interfered with. View of the Town of Louisbourg taken from the Port, , by Verrier fils.

Louisbourg was a vital port of call for the Canadian and Caribbean economies. Lawrence later or earlier in the year than their French counterparts sailing the St. A ship leaving the coast of France in spring April or late summer September would arrive 50 days later in Louisbourg, on June 19 or October 20, respectively. If mail arrived after the closing of the St. Lawrence, it might travel overland.

The return itinerary was also practised. Illustration from Nouveaux voyages aux Indes Occidentales. Part 2, , by Jean Bernard Bossu. It is likely that many of the messengers were themselves Aboriginals. This is hardly surprising considering that their villages were to be found along the portage route. James Peachey, British engineer with the 60th regiment, came across a village at the junction of the Saint John and Madawaska Rivers in These locations on either side of the St. Lawrence and Atlantic divide were known to Aboriginals and Europeans.

While travelling down the Kennebec in , another route to the East coast, Hugh Finlay came across an abandoned Abenaki village Aransoak located downstream from a rapid, deserted some two decades earlier. He was guided by a crew of Aboriginals familiar with the route and the Abenaki language. As they knew where they were going, they were superbly qualified to carry Englishmen and messages hither and thither. News followed the Aboriginals around in the dispatches they delivered and in their observations made en route.

Many were dying, they reported. Hearsay made the long voyage along with the written letters. Unofficially, word arrived via a travelling band of Abenakis just up from New England, in April. As the final showdown with the British loomed, the French continued to use Aboriginal messengers. Aboriginals could also be relied upon to intercept enemy communication. It is possible that the documents contained little sensitive information, as secret instructions would have been issued verbally to the officers in order to ensure confidentiality.

Aboriginals were trusted messengers, message interceptors and smugglers. They served as conduits of merchandise, furs and mail. References to the trade in contraband French furs in exchange for English merchandise occur throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries. A portion of the active population of Kahnawake lived off this activity by serving as couriers or by outfitting smugglers. Two French smugglers—the Desauniers sisters—operated quite openly out of the Mohawk village.

Map of the Montreal Island and the surrounding area, , by J. Within New France, there was a steady market for English manufactured goods. Among the culprits were parish churches and convents.

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The spirit of evasion was widespread. As indicated above, trade with the English was regularly practised in Louisbourg, and smuggling with English and Spanish colonies was a staple of life in New Orleans. Canada was not remarkable in this respect. There can be no smuggling in the absence of efficient, if subterranean, means of transport and communication. The information system was based on confidentiality, discretion and ease of transport. The canoe, a ubiquitous form of transport, was ideal for use in shallow and swift waters and was easy to portage, and thus was favoured both by smugglers and the authorities who pursued them.

The mere ownership of a birchbark canoe was enough to draw the attention of officials, who, in , enacted an ordinance that made registration of these craft mandatory. Efforts to contain smuggling were not successful, and a generation later the trade was still active.

Robert Saunders was a prominent merchant of Albany, New York. A justice in the county court of common pleas, he became town mayor in Active on the English side of the smuggling racket, he employed five or six Aboriginal couriers, whose job it was to carry the French furs southward and the English merchandise northwards, as well as the related paperwork heading in either direction.

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Saunders kept a letterbook in which he transcribed copies of his outgoing correspondence. His French partners were sticklers for secrecy, so Saunders addressed them in code using symbols such as a pipe-smoking chicken or Roman numerals, e. Saunders served as a postal lifeline for his anonymous partners, forwarding news and newspapers from Europe.

Perhaps they were carried by a messenger service? By definition, a village, even an extended village, is a place where news spreads swiftly. The scale of life is such that whatever happens becomes news that makes the rounds by word of mouth, by letter or both. Social networks were set in place during the late 17th to early 18th centuries, enabling the circulation of news. It was no accident that developments easing the flow of communication matched the advent of a market in wheat and other grains.

The St. Lawrence Valley was coming together as a recognizable, cohesive and integrated geographic unit. The process took time. In the midth century, correspondents wrote home to far away France. Systematic settlement made it easier for the Canadians of the St. Lawrence Valley to convey oral messages over an increasingly wider distance. In all of these late 17th-century examples, the news of miracles made the rounds but essentially within a limited geographic extent. As the rest of the St. Lawrence Valley was progressively colonized in the early 18th century, with sons and daughters moving away from the family homestead but never completely out of touch, so was the internal frontier of verbal news expanded.

For example, in , it would have been next to impossible for habitants not to have heard about the arrival of the English. Communication at the regional and local scale was caught up in two types of social activity. First, letters were prepared and exchanged with a view to conveying a message between two parties unable to have a conversation in person. The priority was transmission. Second, communication was a public experience, a ceremony, and an informal exchange between families and neighbours.

In this second instance of unwritten communication, the medium helped frame the manner in which the news was conveyed and ultimately the contents of the message. The emphasis is on representation of shared beliefs and the emotional runoff contingent upon person-to-person exchanges. In season, the St. Lawrence River was a liquid information highway frequented by dozens of boats and schooners. Along the St. Lawrence River.

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River transport ensured a steady flow of information, but navigators needed to know where they were going. Lawrence, Canadians adopted the habit of going out to meet the ships as they passed by to supply or sell refreshments. Particular Map of traverse of Cap Tourmente detail , , by J. Bellin and H. In addition to the tall ships, various types of smaller vessels moved people and information.

Birchbark canoes and wooden dugouts were almost everywhere. The Crown built flat-bottomed boats and wooden dugouts to ferry troops around. Housed in sheds, these bateaux were valuable assets. Royal boats carried messages and people. In , colonial authorities created the position of patron de chaloupe to carry dispatches for the Governor and the Intendant along the St. During the s, royal messengers began carrying dispatches on land. They may have taken private mail as well. It was customary for persons to give their letters to travellers who willingly carried them as a favour.

This custom informed the expectations of letter writers. Road construction in New France was a local affair. Roads might be built in the direction of the seigneurial mill or the parish church, in order to accommodate short-distance travel needs. The official in charge of road construction in New France Grand Voyer or Chief Surveyor found it was not always easy to persuade habitants to fulfill their road building and maintenance obligations.

On occasion, the Intendant might pass an ordinance to enforce the plans for a road. In the parish of Sainte-Famille alone, 46 bridges needed fixing while the road in the parish of Saint-Jean had been washed away by high tides. As yet, there was no road around the circumference of the island. This task was accomplished in the course of the next three decades, i. Ditched on both sides and 24 feet 7. For the inhabitants charged with construction and upkeep, the road was a trade-off.

On the one hand, it removed chunks of tillable land from farm use. On the other, it linked the rural communities in a single interlocking chain, reinforcing the pattern of the extended village. Although not officially a post road, the chemin du Roy was used to move mail. Winter did not prevent travel or the exchange of mail along the main road of the St.

Lawrence Valley. A description of one trip in shows that there were established relay stations where teams of fresh horses were kept. Drivers familiar with the best routes, which sometimes lay out across the frozen surface of the St. Lawrence River, were available for hire. Inhabitants of the parishes along the road were instructed to pack down the snow before the cortege came through. Snow packing was possibly one more royal task for inhabitants, as according to the terms of a ordinance, they were required to mark out winter roads by planting branches in the snow.

In the end, making travel easier for the lordships made it easier for them to move around too. Correspondents wrote each other on appointed days of the week. Montcalm was not the only one depending upon the mails. The circulation of letters tied the elite of the colony together, for, other than in person, there was no better way to conduct business, trade favours or cultivate alliances. Correspondence allowed families dispersed in space to coordinate their efforts. The mail tied the whole enterprise together like one long ribbon of words.

Moreover, business was not the sole object of the exchange. A personal element of equal import could burrow its way into the correspondence. The personal touch was purposeful, in as much as the exchange of favours and courtesies and the arranging of marriages facilitated class solidarity and reproduction.

There is no denying the social usefulness of writing. Yet, as a means of communication, it did not function in a vacuum. An outstanding feature of life along the St. Lawrence River was the ubiquity of talk and the customs and pomp and circumstance surrounding it. Voice came truly into its own at this scale of social relationship.

Everyone participated. No doubt they dined together and talked out the issues of the day while they played cards as did their counterparts in tidewater Virginia. The ordinary folk gathered within their rural parish constituency.

In town as in country, rumour and ritual were the preeminent media of communication. Talk could be manipulated like a barbed instrument. Talk was a popular means of injure among the elite. Like their counterparts in colonial New England they were always eager to eavesdrop; they had good memories, and they repeated to one another, or in court, what they heard. Figure Talk spread throughout the colony borne by travelling sailors, voyageurs and Aboriginals hired to carry dispatches.

It entered and exited letters. In New France, taverns were a favourite forum for popular talk. Games were played, deals were struck, schemes devised.

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Taverns were a fun place to be, not least because there was so much singing. Melodies sung by choirs of voyageurs travelling the waterways of the Upper Country, chanties sung by sailors out on the ocean, traditional tunes of peasant farmers; all could be taken up with a multitude of variations au cabaret. Small wonder that the drinking establishments of Louisbourg stayed open well after the official closing time. In Martinique, despite the official interdict, the town of Saint-Pierre boasted taverns.

The search for conviviality, not just rum, fuelled the demand for these establishments. Voice was intrinsic to social life in New France, but it could get its protagonists in trouble. Forty-four per cent of individuals brought before the Royal Courts of Canada were accused of verbal or physical violence. The onset of the former led almost automatically to the latter. One member of the group took exception to these comments. He began by insulting Dufaut, and eventually a fight broke out. Viger was verbally accosted by the two Brossard brothers, who were upset over something that a member of the Viger party had said.

The incident escalated into fisticuffs before the protagonists could be separated. The climax of the confrontation was a sword fight in which one of the protagonists was stabbed. He eventually died of his wounds. In this as in all human affairs, one thing leads to another.

Yet among the people of New France, gens ordinaires and members of the elite, the deeply ingrained sense of honour was such that people said and did the darndest things. Since the 19th century, French-Canadians have built up a repertoire of swear words that takes its cue from Catholic liturgy and ceremony. The repertoire of their 18th-century ancestors inhabiting New France was different. In Louisiana, the judicial archives suggest that such words as foutre, coquin, bougre , and fripon cheap were among the favourites. Generally speaking, swearing in New France reflected the value assigned to the sense of honour of men and women.

If you wished to insult a man you would call into question his honesty using such terms as fripon , voleur , geux , or cartouche. Women were reviled for their extramarital sexual activity as in putain whore , and its various synonyms, marcrelle , garce , coureuses de garcons.