Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hit The Wall

Living History Watches Over Quebec City

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


I was probably about six years old when I picked up a Ladybird book and took it into the huge garden to read on the cane furniture under the shade of the giant trees. That book was my first introduction to Quebec City and I was immediately fascinated. Now, as an adult I look back on that crystal-clear memory and I am trying to work out why I was immediately captivated.

It was because of a simple reason. As a little fella who had not yet studied much history, I simply didn’t realise the strong French influence in the region and I had never heard the term "French Canadian" before. Little did I know that one day I would travel to Quebec City with cameras slung around my neck, to record scenes from a beautiful city that captivated me so many years ago.

So here is my Q for Quebec City post. In September 2005 I was fortunate enough to travel to Quebec City, Montreal and parts of Muskoka, Ontario, to photograph those regions for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Quebec City was my first stop and I was instantly captivated.

It was the first time I set eyes on the Quebec City Mural, a three-dimensional, five-storey trompe d’oeil (French for "to deceive the eye") that includes several people who played a prominent role in the city’s rich history. Among those who are painted into the mural are François de Montmorency-Laval, Louis-Joseph Papineau, François-Xavier Garneau, Jacques Cartier, Jean Talon, Comte de Frontenac, Louis Jolliet, Samuel de Champlain, Lord Dufferin and Felix Leclerc.

As you can see from the shot above, the weather was dull and grey. The mighty St Lawrence in the background reflects a brooding sky, yet the whole sight is arresting nonetheless.

The mural itself can be quite challenging to photograph. Can you guess why? Because there are always tourists milling around, listening to tour guides and trying to focus their cameras on the mural to capture their own distinctive view of it. I spent about an hour there on a cloudy afternoon, shooting various aspects of the mural.

There are many things that fascinate me as a photographer. It’s not just the technology at our fingertips; it’s not just appreciating the rapid advance from mixing chemicals in a darkroom to chips and memory cards; it’s not just the choice of angles and compositions. Above all those, it is the human process of self-discovery that completely enthralls me.

Give a human being a camera and you open up a whole range of possibilities.

So as I stood there, hoping it wouldn’t rain as the heavens had opened above me the previous day, I realized there was a distinct possibility that I might not get a chance to photograph the entire mural without anyone else ‘intruding’ into the frame. And that’s when my own process of self-discovery began.

If you have a problem and you can’t work around it, then you worth with it. Quite simply, I decided to use the milling tourists as a bonus, rather than a detriment.

Instead of becoming frustrated that I could not get that one elusive, clear shot, I spent an hour with a big grin on my face, enjoying the challenge of using the tourists around me to tell the story of the mural. I began to utilise the very presence of other visitors as an added dimension to the mural.

This shot (above) was taken from the left-hand side of one group. I trained my lens on the bottom storey of the mural, showing not seventeenth-century figures in flowing robes but contemporary figures in modern clothes. The "real" tourist in the foreground fitted in perfectly. Why did I choose him? Because he was wearing a baseball cap and it was more or less the same colour as the wall. Simple as that.

This shot (above) was taken from a slightly different angle. I had a few seconds to make my decision on this composition, because I saw a male tourist hand his camera to someone else and I knew he wanted his photograph taken. To my good luck, he strode off to stand beside the mural.

I had just enough leeway to frame this shot that almost endows him with the same quality as the people painted on the wall. To a casual observer, he might just pass off as just another painted figure. Can you pick the real man? (Answer: he's the figure in the foreground, wearing a cap and a jumper over a blue T-shirt!)

There was a group of about twenty tourists hanging on every word of their tour guide. The guide, mindful of the threatening clouds, was in a hurry to move the group through the square. I quickly composed this shot, lest they scoot off to their next stop, or seek shelter from the weather.

I was in the middle of the square when I noticed these two people on the curve of the hill to my right. They were in perfect position for me to swing my camera up and take a quick shot, freezing two contemporary figures alongside the men and women who shaped the history of the beautiful city.

If you didn't know that the mural ended at the wall, you might even think that this whole frame, including the cars and the two men by the street light, were artfully included in it.

Sometimes the strangest things happen when you have a camera in your hands. Having started out by trying to get a clear shot of the mural, I walked back as far as I could to try and get a shot of the whole mural with as many tourists in front of it as I could possibly get in one vertical frame. By the time I had found the perfect vantage point, with the added value of the curved, dark green handrail, guess what had happened? It had started to drizzle. The crowd cleared miraculously. And I was blessed with the shot (above) I had sought all along.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

48 comments:

Grit said...

what a great idea! i'm tempted to add 'every town should have one'. but in this town that would include two murderers, the cannabis factory owner at no. 22 and the headteacher carted off for insanity. sadly, round here we do the infamous better than the famous.

Carolyn said...

I share your love for Quebec City. I think it's one of the most beautiful cities in all of Canada (except for Vancouver, of course!) Thanks for the virtual trip to one of my favourite places, David.

Daryl said...

I have wanted to visit there forever ... and now I feel as if I almost have .. and thanks for the reminder to find a Q .. oy ... oy .. aha! Wait til tomorrow .. MY tomorrow to see my Q!

:-Daryl

Sandi McBride said...

The greatest things about blogging are not only the friendships we build with people from other places, but the trips we are allowed to take thanks to great camera skills or in some cases, pure luck of the light angles...thanks for the trip to Canada...it's been too many years since I was there!
Sandi

Jennifer H said...

Amazing. I would love to see this, but until then, you've given me some beautiful photos of such a beautiful and grand work of art.

Kathryn said...

That is amazing. Even the reflections in the painted windows is just unbelievable. Wow!
Thank you for sharing it with us.

willow said...

Nice post. Quebec is a beautiful city. I was fortunate enough to visit there once...would love to go back someday.

Lin said...

Thank you! I ADORE urban murals!

And that was a wonderfully Zen strategy in accommodating both the work and the admirer.

RuneE said...

Thank you for several things:
1. For showing me Quebec
2. For teaching me a French expression
3. For the lesson on including the tourist. I have never thought of doing it that way!

PS The next "Bridge day" will be Monday June 2.

Suldog said...

The photo of the fellow in front of the mural is fantastic. It especially works because the shadow drawn for the figure behind him looks as though it may be cast by him - or maybe it actually is? Anyway, great shot!

joan said...

Hi David,

I've never been to Quebec but hope to one day and that looks like something I would love to see. Thanks for sharing.

Brian in Oxford said...

My parents are off to Quebec City starting tomorrow for a long weekend, actually....I wonder what they'll find for themselves!

nice work, David!

imac said...

What a post for ABC David full of information and great shots.

Pop over to see my Q post and the Bluebells.

Hilary said...

Ah Québec, my home province.

Incredible shots, David. I love the way you worked the passersby into the images of the mural. That great city hosted a fine photographer and I'm so glad you shared.

Merci!

Dave Coulter said...

Really interesting story there. I have never been to QC but I've heard it's really nice!

Berit said...

Beautiful photo from Quebec!!!

mrsnesbitt said...

David.....................
what can I say...........
you knew Q was approaching............and you embrased with passion and articulation!

Dxxxx

D... said...

Oh wow. That is truly spectacular. I'd love to see that in person one day.

ellen b said...

What a great Q post. I've had the desire in the last couple of years to visit Quebec. It's on my things to do before I die mental list :)
Beautiful photos as usual here...

Maggie May said...

Quebec looks a brilliant city. You captured a part of it.

leslie said...

What an incredible story and what incredible shots you managed. A great idea to incorporate the real-life people with the figures in the mural. You've given me incentive to go to Quebec City and really look around. We only drove through on our way to Prince Edward Island one year.

John said...

What a great ABC Q post David!
Very interesting story and lovely photos.

Tammy said...

My daughter leaves on the 22nd for a class trip to Quebec City. It's an 8 hour drive by bus to get there from here.

Michele (Rocky Mtn.Girl) said...

I haven't been that far East but that mural is awesome. I have heard many great stories and seen photographs of it and you have shown me some a nice set of shots as well! Very nice.
Rocky Mountain Retreat

photowannabe said...

Fantasic murals and photos of a very regal city. Excellent choice for the letter Q.

Kimberly said...

Wow...just...wow.

I need to travel!

holly said...

oh that's awesome. much better than the murals they have in belfast, which are mainly of people with masks shooting each other. yes. that was fun explaining to my 5 year old (at the time). next time i'm takin' her to quebec!

me and my camera said...

This is a wonderful post on Quebec City, and I laughed when I saw your 'Q; word for I had never thought of that one myself, although I am traveling to Quebec, la belle province, this weekend, and will be visiting in Montreal. A great read with wonderful photos; I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Katney said...

I have never been to Quebec--until now. Thank you for the tour of the murals, David.

Judy said...

What a wonderful Q post. The photos are beautiful. Well done!

Diana said...

I visited Quebec city about 30 years ago. I loved it. we stayed at the Chateau Frontenac and walked the St. Lawrence boardwalk many times. Wonderful memories, thanks for reminding me!

alicesg said...

Very beautiful murals. The artists are very creative.

Paulie said...

I was wondering where the long story wa heading -- it was great to have to wait for the end product! Pretty interesting! I love traaveling via blogging.

Neva said...

The mural is awesome and I love how you walked us through the scenario of how you took your pictures. You really are amazing. I love your stories as much as your photos. I am glad I have found you in blogland.

kbbryant said...

I throughly enjoyed your visit to Quebec City. You sold me.

Kathy b

Picturing of Life said...

great shots :D

Will you visit mine Thanks

ArneA said...

Quebec seams to be a place to visit. Great that it is above the border.
Very interesting shots!

Pernille's ting og tang said...

Fantastic Q's from you to day. Wonderful shots and very interesting text. Thank you for sharing:)

Ackworth Born said...

A marvellous post. Never been to QC and unlikely I ever will, but now I will always think of that mural. Your tale of how to photograph large places inundated with tourists reminds me of the difficulties I had trying to capture some of the places in St Petersburg - I didn't have the time to take my time like you did here.
Thanks for this.

swile67 said...

Salut, I'm embarassed to say that as a Canadian living in the province next to Quebec, I never thought to use it for our "Q" pics!!! It is a beautiful city! Thanks for sharing your traveloge via the pics of Quebec City! Au Revoir!!

Shrinky said...

these murials are fantastic, and I love the way you have captured them. I am unfamiliar with Quebec, in fact I have never been to Canada - it has piqued my interest, maybe one day I might even manage to view these for myself.

Liz said...

Those are really brilliant. Such wonderful compositions. We have a trompe l'oeil in Swansea but not as impressive as that one.

Jonna said...

I must thank you for writing this post. Your photography was outstanding, and I loved how you were able to capture the tourists at the right moment.

Very nice article, as well.

Gary said...

What amazing pictures (again). Fantastic compositions of a fantastic work of art. Thank you for sharing.

Gary

Janet said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post and your photos are great. The trompe d’oeil is fantastic!! I've not been to Quebec City but now I think I would love to see it.

CrazyCath said...

That has got to be one of the best posts I have read this month! I hope you put it in a POTD. I nominate it now!

You have taught me a valuable lesson which I am learning - frustration can absolutely ruin the joy of photography and I am learning to change my aims, ideas, to fit in with what is happening. Like you, I do not like to "set up" a shot or pose - I prefer to photograph things in situ. I have to do a lot more practice.

The mural is amazing. I need to go to Quebec now! And how you have captured the people in there with it is just perfect. Especially the man in front of the mural and then the two to the right of it with all the parked cars. Truly inspiring. What a talent you have for spotting things that are just right and also in recognising it quickly before the moment is gone.

I seem to be spending a lot of time going "Darn! That WOULD have been a great shot!" I am starting to recognise them - but not quickly enough yet. The odd one I get lucky...

A great Q post.

Ishat's Fire said...

These are great.
I have not been there, in what seems a lifetime.

Helena said...

Great Q! I had such a hard time trying to think of a "Q"!