As someone from someplace oft described as “a land of contrasts,” I understand at a visceral level how asinine descriptors like that are; for what is a city but a mixed multitude and condenser of opposites?
There are cities where this mixity is thrown in stark relief as harsh lines of stratification, it’s true – San Franscisco comes to mind right now – but we rarely use the language of “contrasts” there; haves and have-nots are not the kind of duotone that capture our imagination.
No, lands of contrast excite the eye like a splash of modern art. It’s the steeple and the minaret in Beirut; it’s the bonjour and the hi (or the exit and the sortie, if that’s more your vibe) in Montreal. Or so I’d thought.
Spending a week in Montreal, I didn’t see the contrasts I expected; to the great chagrin of culture warriors, I’m sure, French and Anglo cultures are a lot more blended to my eyes. A poutine avec smoked meat comes to mind.
No, the contrasts I experienced were a little deeper than that and harder to define; the best I can do right now is compare it to what it might feel like to be in love with an abuser.
If you live or have visited, I’d be curious to hear from you. Does anything I’d said so far resonate? Why or why not?
I’m fully aware of how much my experience has been colored by this one particular week in this one particular summer, with its specific heat waves and extreme thunderstorm warnings, etc., and all the choices we made in between – trust me, I’m fully aware of that bias.
And there might have been a time when I’d have agonized about being “fair” and “balanced” in what I shared. That would be the writer in me talking. But I didn’t walk around that city as a writer; I was there to play photographer. And the thing about photography is that despite its technical affordance and self-image as an objective art, taking a photo is an assertion of the self; this eye, this angle, that light, that lens, this moment, this decision – particularity all the way down.
I took these photos after the massive thunderstorm that soaked us to the bone on Tuesday and had us sheltering for over an hour; like many others on that high street, we went shopping for dry clothes. Apres le déluge, les soldes. Et apres le déluge, c’est moi aussi – my nervous system activated, my muscles aching, my mood lifting, my composition, my shot.
Rewind the film back over again; run it back through; that first exposure won’t go away. Maybe that makes for bad reportage but it sure as hell makes for a good story.