For twenty-five years, Montreal photographer Benoit Aquin has travelled the world to bring home to us the environmental issues and the human stories linked to them. His is a socially engaged approach in tune with the mindset of his time. He works project by project, studying his subjects in depth before capturing them with his camera.

He is concerned with climatic catastrophes, as evidenced by his series “Tsunami” (2004) executed in Indonesia, and “Haiti” (2010-2011). Environmental disasters are also among his concerns: global warming in “Quebec’s Far North” (2005) and the food crisis in Egypt in 2007. In 2008 he won the prestigious Prix Pictet for the images in his series “The Chinese ‘Dust Bowl’” (2006-2007). To illustrate the competition’s subject – water – he chose to depict drought resulting from human activity. In this regard, it is not surprising that he was drawn to the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. The exhibition Mégantic in Pictures features forty photographs that reveal the photographer’s empathy with his subject. Thirteen photographs from this series – which are being exhibited in Canada for the first time – were presented last summer at the Rencontres d’Arles as part of a retrospective of the four winners of the Prix Pictet. The photograph Exclusion Zone from the series “Mégantic” was selected by The Guardian as one of the fifteen best images in this annual festival of photography.

Benoit Aquin - Fence. The exclusion zone

Exclusion Zone
Benoit Aquin (born in 1963), from the Series “Mégantic”, 2013
Ink-jet print, 1/5, 102 x 152 cm

Guided Tours
Saturday and Sunday, from 1.30 to 3.30 p.m., Museum Guides will be on hand
in this gallery to answer your questions and discuss the exhibited works.
Make the most of your visit!

Can you explain to us the genesis of your Mégantic series?

I drove to Lac-Mégantic the very day of the accident. The working conditions were difficult. Access to the site of the tragedy was blocked. What was accessible to me visually seemed so minimal compared to the immensity of the disaster. I had to go back several times before I could envisage the creation of a photographic work. By dint of hard work, I finally found the approach and the treatment I considered to be ethical and adequate to encompass this tragedy. I worked day and night using flash photography, which enabled me to illuminate with an inquisitorial eye the dark side that was being hidden from us.

For Mégantic, I acted rather like a journalist. I looked for clues, traces of contamination or destruction, or the testimony of survivors, but once I found myself there, in those places, in the presence of witnesses or in a significant situation, my only concern was how to photograph the site, while avoiding illustration at all costs. When I work this way, there is no perfect moment. On the contrary, the imperfect moment, the inconclusive moment becomes important, for these are the moments that are often left out of photos.

Today, how would you describe your work? Could it be seen as an approach that is both documentary and artistic at the same time?

Documentary photography has a rich and complex history going back over a hundred years. It is based on sociological references and generally comprises several focal points. The type of photography we find in present-day art is more iconic and is based on a more personal conceptual approach. I hybridize these two traditions while keeping their specificities in mind.

Level Crossing (detail)
Benoit Aquin, from the Series “Mégantic”, 2013
Ink-jet print, 1/5, 102 x 152 cm

Rebuilding Track (detail)
Benoit Aquin, from the Series “Mégantic”, 2013
Ink-jet print, 1/5, 102 x 152 cm