Collections and Research
Right: Michel Huneault, Homeless shelter, Maurice Richard Arena, Montreal, April 2020, collection of the artist. © Michel Huneault
Stories of Confinement: A Photographic Mission
World Photography Day commemorates August 19, 1839, the day on which physicist François Arago (1786-1853) revealed the secret of the daguerreotype, the photographic process developed by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851). Presented in Paris to the academies of sciences and arts, this announcement signalled the beginning of photography. At the same occasion, the French government shared the details of the process with the public so that everyone could take advantage of the discovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to rage, was an opportunity for the McCord Museum to put this incredible invention to good use. In the spirit of community engagement, the Museum launched a major project in late March 2020 to document the resilience of Montrealers during this challenging period marked by mandatory confinement and staggering numbers of people affected or struck down by the disease. We invited members of the public to share photographs of daily life, taken inside or outside, using the hashtag #FramingEverydayLife on social networks. By late July, over 3778 images had been posted to Framing Everyday Life: Stories of Confinement.
Browsing through this gallery of visual testimonials, one experiences strong feelings of solidarity and proximity, despite the isolation. There is a little bit of everything: scenes of family life, expressions of solitude or tenderness, the makeshift home office, household objects, deserted streets, nature awakening in spring, and numerous faces. Revealing a surprising community of interests, these images evoke poetry, art, humour and a renewed sense of contemplation.
In addition to this collaborative component, the project included commissioning a photographer to document the health crisis. Documentary photographer Michel Huneault was chosen for his previous work on the upheaval associated with disasters, community traumas and climate change, notably Lac-Mégantic, Post Tohoku and Roxham. The Curator of Photography and the artist will work together to select 30 photographs from the assignment to enrich the Museum’s collection.
In April 2021, a year after the start of lockdown, the Museum will exhibit the results of Michel Huneault’s work, adding to our collective reflections on this unprecedented time in history. For the photographer, fulfilling this mandate—which took him from self-isolation at home, out to the deserted city, and then into the heart of the battle in hospitals and CHSLDs—was an “extreme experience.” For the Museum, the two elements of this project, the stories of Montrealers and that of the artist, are invaluable records of this period.
Hélène Samson, Curator, Photography