Our family traveled to Montréal, Quebec in early November 2016 to attend the graduation of a family friend at McGill university. We had been meaning to explore Montréal for a couple years now and this was our opportunity. As with any adventure, it had its ups and downs but what struck me most about the city was the contrast. Montréal seems to exist simultaneously in both French and English, wealth and poverty, a proud sense of past mingling with a crumbling present. I put this figurative contrast to work, exploring new regions of my film’s exposure latitude.
The first thing to realize about Quebec is that, by and large, she is generally considered a sovereign nation by her residents. There is a sense of cultural identity in Quebecers that isn’t found elsewhere in Canada. The change is tangible even when driving over the provincial border into Quebec. Subtleties in architecture, food and infrastructure all have a European whiff. It’s not an unpleasant distinction, thus any trip to La Belle Province feels slightly more exotic as a result.
Jumping off the metro at Place-Des-Arts, you’re immediately in the thick of the affluent downtown. After viewing the McGill commencement ceremony, we set out on foot to see the area. The light was amazing, early afternoon warming the canyons between high buildings and spilling golden light onto the older and humbled historic infill.
I’ve been in a bit of a lull when it comes to shooting lately. I can’t put a finger on why, but I’ve not shot a lot of film since summer. I’ve only got a couple rolls of film in the house right now so maybe I’ve been reluctant to have none. Anyway, I hadn’t used my camera out on this trip until this point, but I couldn’t ignore the dramatic light any longer. I ended up taking only 9 square 120 exposures, for a total of 45.5625 square inches. Get the post title now?
I shot what could be my first roll of Ilford Delta in a decade. I also chose to shake a few other norms up as well, when it comes to choosing which part of the tonal scale would sing lead and which could handle backup. Generally, I’ve made a policy out of keeping as much of the shadow detail in a scene as possible and letting the highlights come together as they would. With all the recent chatter about going our own way, trying new and exciting things and exploiting a film’s strengths and weaknesses, I decided to take a page from a photographer whose work I admire very much.
Mike Fraser lives in Toronto, Ontario. He has just published a wonderful book (that I’d love to get my hands on) entitled IN/HUMAN. I’ve admired Mike’s work for a while now, especially his city shots with slide film. The unique character of the light in a city like Montréal or Toronto is unlike any light I’ve experienced in small-potatoes New Brunswick, and concentrating on the highlights for detail seems to be a great way to exploit and separate scenes that would otherwise be information dense (to the point of confusing the viewer). So, why not? I gave it a shot.
Normally, I’d have exposed for the shadows and worked through framing to minimize that massive flare, but the quality and intensity of that day’s light translates well here. Not technically perfect, but the atmosphere rings true.
Coming from a place where mass transit is limited to city buses, I always find subways fascinating. I enjoyed looking at the other end of the histogram for detail here too.
This isn’t my normal light to explore, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the challenge. Indeed, it should open up some more options for me in the future.
Jean-Talon Market was mostly empty, but it was also a place we wanted to check off the list. Again, big windows and that odd urban light made for contrasty scenes to explore. The massive contrast in the images pretty closely reflects the late afternoon glare and the hard shadow.
I’ve quite enjoyed using the iPhone to play with metering, treating its fairly narrow dynamic range like slide film and seeing what happens.
I certainly won’t be writing off scenes as “too contrasty” any longer. There’s beauty in imperfection, and satisfaction in outgrowing your boundaries.
We visited Olympic Park the next day and were mostly confused. It’s sprawling complex, with hundreds of acres of park and Organic/Modern structures near the south end. As a microcosm of Montréal, Olympic Park stands in pretty well for the city. Driving by, the stadium and outbuildings look magnificent. It’s a unique and globally recognizable statement made by the people of this province as a follow-up album to the Expo’67 adrenaline.
Upon closer inspection, the cracks are evident. Everything in Montréal is under some form of construction, and it will likely stay that way with the way the industry does business. On foot, the city seems to have more in common with 1980’s eastern Europe than anything else. The story of the Olympic complex is a blunder on an unimaginable scale, not even completed until three years after the Olympic games took place there.
We made the best of it.
My favourite aspect of Olympic Park was closed for the season, and we’ve decided to return when it’s at it’s peak. The Botanical Gardens were serene, varied and happily empty. I would have moved into the Japanese Garden house without hesitation.
Montréal left us a little cold, but I’m willing to tally that up mostly to a combination of circumstances. Most people we dealt with were fabulous, allowing me to muddle through with my public-school French and help where they could. At the very least, we’ll stop here and sample the gardens on our way to Ottawa next year.
As if to cleanse our palette, we made a pit-stop on the drive home to Vieux Quebec, a city we very much fell for last winter.
Monochrome images in this post are from the Rolleiflex MX, this time with Ilford Delta 100 processed in llfosol3, scanned on Epson 3200Pro.
Colour images are via iPhone6