I’ve lived in Canada for over 25 years, but despite this considerable amount of time, I had explored a relatively tiny section of my home country. I’d road tripped across The States, driving down to New Orleans, Arizona, and the Oregon/California coast on separate trips. But aside from a couple trips to visit family near Toronto as a kid and a weekend or two in Winnipeg (think North Dakota), I had spent all of my time living west of Saskatoon, basically in line with Denver.
I had wanted to explore the unknown (to me) eastern half of the country for a long time, but given the vastness, and relative emptiness of the land between the coasts, it always seemed too impractical, expensive, or both.
So when some friends proposed the idea of New Years in Montreal this past winter, I jumped. Finally there was a good reason - a reunion with friends - to suck up the expense and go. I had been home from travelling abroad for six months at this point and was itching to get on a plane and go… well, anywhere.
What’s more, Quebec had many of the distinctive traits of travelling to a foreign country, unique architecture, a difference in climate, and a primary language other than my own. All of these made the prospect of the two week trip all the more alluring to my travel-starved soul.
Of these factors, the one that made itself apparent immediately was not the difference in language, but in climate. As I landed, the city was in the middle of its first major blizzard of the year, and it was a doozy. Where there had been no snow 36 hours before, there was now more than a foot of freshly fallen white powder, and more falling fast. As I rode the bus into the city my visibility was limited to no more than a block, or maybe two.
The sheer volume of snow had paralyzed the city, plows unable to clear the streets fast enough, leaving the more adventurous drivers to crawl the roadways at a snail’s pace or face sliding right off of them. Over the course of my first day in the city I helped push out no less than four cars who were stuck in driveways, parking lanes, or unplowed side streets.
Even walking was difficult, my feet soaked within ten minutes of setting out after checking into my hostel, and the sidewalks difficult to navigate - or even find - under the thick layer of unevenly trampled snow.
Clearly, this is not what I had in mind for the trip.
It was better.
Camera in hand, I crisscrossed the unfamiliar streets until my sodden feet, frozen fingers, and fogging lens could bear no more and demanded some respite from the elements.
A longtime landscape photographer with a love affair with vibrant colours, but a deep desire to experiment, the images captured during the first days in Montreal gave me a natural excuse to explore the art of black and white photo processing.
I’ve always loved the power and simplicity of black and white images, and while I had produced a handful of monochrome images in the past, when it came down to it I found it hard to pull the trigger on the conversion, more often seduced by the colour version of the image.
Here however, with the blizzard in full swing there was little colour to be seen even by the naked eye, the city reduced to varying shades of white and grey through the haze of heavily falling snow. This natural desaturation forced me into viewing my surroundings in something of an objective matter. Uninfluenced by colour and vibrancy I was free to view Montreal through a lens focussed on shape, form, concept and humanity.
The stories of the cities residents too seemed to spring sharply into focus, propelled by the unexpected reality the blizzard had brought upon them. Daily life disrupted and bent to the will of nature and her elemental power.
People slipped and stumbled down sidewalks, hunched against the wind, others dug their cars out of frozen cells, and yet others, like me, revelled in the novelty of the world frosted over.
I had been in something of a photographic rut before this trip. Finding it hard to find the inspiration that comes so easily when away from home and exploring a new place. The moment the first flake brushed against my face however, I opened my eyes to find that even a world in black and white was filled with colour, character, and inspiration.
Let me know your thoughts on travel, breaking out of ruts, photographing in black and white, or anything else this story inspires in you! Have you ever encountered a situation that forced you to look at the world differently, as I did relating to monochrome in Montreal? Do you revel in the chance to get out and document the bizarre and unexpected events that are thrown our way every so often? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear about them!
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