© Maude Chauvin
This month, Montreal’s foremost photography exhibition space, Vox Contemporary Image, will reopen its doors at a new location. It’s a major event for the photography community in Montreal. Last month saw the end of the latest presentation of Le Mois de la Photo (Month of Photography), the biannual program of photo exhibitions housed in several cultural institutions and artist-run spaces across the city.
Montreal is home to many major art institutions, such as the Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal, the Museum of Fine Art and the Belgo Building, which houses several individual art galleries, all helping make Montreal the “cultural capital of Canada,” according to commercial photographer Andre Cornellier. It is an appealing place to live and work for artists of all disciplines. “The city still feels like a community,” says photographer David De Stefano, who works in the bustling downtown area. Montreal’s long and unique history is evident in the cuisine and architecture, which feature a blend of English and French influences that you’re unlikely to find in any other city. Montreal is also famed for its bilingual culture, though according to commercial photographer Christian Fleury, many media companies in Montreal “cater only to Francophones.” It’s recommended that photographers who work there be able to communicate in French, though being bilingual is not a necessity.
Best Places to Shoot
“I have used this city for so many commercial and editorial shoots, and I have never run out of backgrounds!” says Manon Boyer. Those who want to capture an eighteenth century European look but are unable to make the trip to Paris can explore Old Montreal. This historic section of the city dates back to the time of New France. Architectural highlights include City Hall, the Basilique Notre-Dame Montreal and Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, as well as the New York Life Building, Canada’s oldest skyscraper.
On the other side of the historical spectrum there is the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 summer games. Its futuristic design offers “limitless architectural fun,” says Lino Cipresso. Another striking modern landmark is the Turcot Interchange, a tangle of elevated roadways whose complexity rivals the freeways of Los Angeles. Stroll along the Lachine Canal, the site of 20th century factories and warehouses as well as public parks and the occasional archeological dig.
For panoramic views of Montreal, photographers can visit Mount Royal Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (most famous for New York City’s Central Park). Photographers who prefer street-level shots should explore the Jean-Talon Market, often bursting with eccentric characters.
Best Clients in the Area
Plaisirs de Vivre
Rogers Media, Inc.
Canadian National Railway
Places to View Photography
Canadian Center for Architecture
Contemporary Art Museum of Montreal
McCord Museum of Canadian History
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Vox Contemporary Image
Art MUR Gallery
The Belgo Building
Joyce Yehuda Gallery
If You Had 48 Hours to Spend in Montreal, What Should You Do?
One of the best things to do in Montreal might be to leave the city, according to Nathalie Quirion, who works from a studio in the trendy Mile End neighborhood. “Quebec is an amazing territory with many beautiful natural wonders,” she says. Surrounded by some of the most breathtaking landscapes in North America, Montreal makes an ideal destination for nature shooters and enthusiasts.
Those who love the urban life should visit Mile End or the Plateau neighborhood. Both are not only dotted with photographers’ studios, but boutique shopping and affordable restaurants. St. Catherine Street in the downtown area is home to most of Montreal’s art galleries and museums, and also has upscale dining. The Lachine Canal and Old Port provide great views along the water, and Angrignon Park is a must-visit during the warmer months. In the summer, Andre Cornellier insists that visitors take in Montreal’s many outdoor festivals, including Le Mois de la Photo (The Month of Photography), a citywide festival that is held every other September.
Where to Eat for Business:
Au Pied Du Cochon
Jardin de Panos
Le Gourmet Burger
Where to Eat for Fun:
Buvette Chez Simone
Olive et Gourmando
To best experience the city, our respondents advised visitors to stay in either historic Old Montreal for a “European feel,” or in the Downtown area for easy access to museums, dining and other attractions. For longer stays, consider renting a furnished apartment in the Plateau neighborhood. Recommended hotels:
Hotel Le Crystal
Hotel Le Germain
Hotel Le St-James
Hotel Place D’Armes
Montreal Marriott Chateau Champlain
Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth
St. Paul Hotel
Local photographers noted the lack of bookstores devoted exclusively to photography. Most recommended shopping for photo books in the gift shops of Montreal’s museums. Try:
Canadian Center for Architecture bookstore
Le Temps de Lire
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts bookstore
Olivieri Librairie + Bistro
Advantages/Disadvantages to Living and Working in Montreal
One of the most frequently mentioned advantages to living in Montreal is its affordability. The cost of new homes in Montreal, for example, is lower than in Toronto, Vancouver or Ottawa, and Montreal’s cost of living is slightly lower as well according to government data from 2009.
The cost of renting a studio is also more affordable than in other cities. “It is not uncommon for photographers to rent on a per-day basis,” says Manon Boyer, who does commercial and editorial work. Renting a studio for the day costs between $500 and $700 Canadian for spaces of 2,500 square feet or larger. This is a draw for out-of-town clients, as the cost for a similar space in New York City or Toronto, the two closest major photography markets, can run higher. For photographers who prefer to lease their own space by the month or the year, Boyer says, the typical cost for Montreal studios is approximately $1 Canadian per square foot. Local photographers often share spaces to save money.
The Montreal chapter of the trade association for commercial photographers, Canadian Association of Professional Image Creators, organizes exhibitions and lectures for the local photo community. Still, many commercial shooters PDN contacted believe the local community needs to be stronger. “Montreal has a huge appreciation for fine-art photography but limited commercial possibilities [for it],” says Bob Hendriks, who produces print and design work in addition to his photography.
However, among fine-art photographers based here, opinion varies about how many opportunities there are to be exposed to collectors. Photographer André Cornellier calls it a “market in development,” with potential to grow as “a new generation of collectors [emerges].”
“Most contemporary art galleries and museums show photography as part of their exhibition programming,” says fine-art photographer Thomas Kneubühler, but only Vox Contemporary Image shows photography exclusively. Marisa Portolese, who teaches at Concordia University’s photography program, says that Montreal’s art institutions need “more photo-specific curators and historians.” Advertising and fashion photographer Claude Charlebois says fine-art photographers establish themselves elsewhere. “It’s better to go international,” he says.
For commercial photographers, advertising agencies such as Sid Lee, TAXI and lg2 are among the biggest local clients, and companies such as Lafarge and the Canadian National Railway frequently commission images. “Corporate clients are loyal, offer diverse projects and have decent budgets,” says Fleury. Commercial photographers complain that retaining their copyright for assignment work demands negotiations with clients. Unlike U.S. copyright law, under Canadian law, the copyright does not automatically reside with the creator of an original work, unless there is a prior agreement to that effect; CAPIC and Professional Photographers of Canada have lobbied hard for a revision of the law. Local editorial clients, Charlebois notes, “do not pay current North American fees,” so editorial photographers have to diversify, he says. “A good balance between local editors and Toronto and New York [editors] would be ideal.”
The city’s proximity to New York and Toronto makes it easy for photographers to travel for assignments, or better yet, for clients to come to the city themselves. Montreal acts as “a bridge between two worlds, where I can live close to Europe and do business as a North American, with Montreal as a gateway,” says Hendriks.