Seated comfortably around a long wooden table at Café Falco, the faces of three young men gazed eagerly at me as I sat down to ask them about their new project, Portraits of Montreal, which showcases both the similarities and differences between people from all over Montreal. This initiative was created to show the human side of our large metropolis; to show that despite our differences (whether they be language, ethnicity, or social status) we are all human, and we should all feel as if we belong in the city we all love and adore.
The three men behind the vision—Samuel Rocheleau, Thibault Carron, and Mikael Theimer—recently embarked on this journey after having each left their jobs over the past couple of weeks. Without delving too deep into why, they each professed that they simply did not feel motivated in their positions and lacked a certain sense of belonging. Having all left their jobs, they decided to tackle something they were all passionate about, and which they believe can help to make a difference in the city, if only just a little.
“We really want to focus on key people that have a story worth sharing.”
Portraits of Montreal is still quite a young project, and yet they already have a large online following. While the three photographers admit approaching people to take their photos and ask questions about their lives was daunting at first, they’ve gotten into a bit of a groove now. “The first one of the day is always tough… but after that, you get in the right mindset and just set out to look for that one good story.”
Mikael hails from Paris, France, and has lived in Montreal for the past six and a half years. He studied marketing at HEC and quickly fell in love with the city. “What struck me the most was the mix of people and how everyone managed to live together peacefully,” he said. Mikael has always been a fan of Humans of New York, and figured there was no reason why it shouldn’t be done in Montreal, too. “I figured, let’s just jump into it and do it.”
Thibault also moved to Montreal from France eight years ago to study at HEC. Born in the city of Lyon, he has been keenly interested in photography for the past six years and believed this project will show the true side of Montrealers. Like his partners, he left his job in the financial sector several months ago and has not looked back.
Raised in Victoriaville, Quebec, Samuel bought his first camera at the age of 16, and from that moment was immediately drawn to the power of photography. He studied cinema at CEGEP and film studies at Concordia University before ultimately realizing that film production was not what he expected. He left school, and for the next five months of his life, consumed everything he could online and went out each and every day to apply his knowledge in the field. “Sometimes it’s tough to challenge and motivate yourself, but I learned so much that way.” The pattern repeated itself when he left his job as a camera operator a start-up film company. “I woke up and just didn’t feel it anymore… now, I’m more in control and I can do what I want. More than that, with this project, I can feel the human touch I never had with production.”
With the timing seemingly perfect, they quickly decided to launch this new venture together and promised to shoot new profiles each and every day. They started their adventure in the Plateau-Mile End neighbourhoods – not simply because of the eclectic mix of people in the area, but because it’s close to home – and have also explored other areas including the Park of Mount Royal, Chinatown, Jeanne-Mance park, and even Downtown. Truth be told, they’re trying to cover as much ground as possible in an effort to demonstrate the diversity that makes Montreal what it is.
Despite being a little shy at first, they have been pleasantly surprised by the reactions of people thus far. “We were a bit taken aback by how open and friendly people are. Most people don’t mind sharing their stories,” Mikael said. As they continue to improve and refine the process on a day-to-day basis, they’ve agreed that they want to take the HONY concept to the next level. In that sense, Portraits of Montreal will also focus on the people within the city, but promises to publish quotes alongside the photos, as well as a video compilation of their interviews once a week.
In their daily search for portraits, they try to find people who are not in a rush and look as if they would have a few moments to spare. After first explaining their project, they speak with each person for about 10-15 minutes in order to get a good sense of their background and daily lives. Predictably, each photographer has a different style of executing this task, and sometimes it varies from subject to subject. “Sometimes I’ll speak with the person for a long time before I even turn on the tape recorder,” Samuel admits. “I usually talk with the person first and take photos at the end, but I’ve also taken photos at the same time,” Mikael added. “Sometimes you just have to roll with it.”
While it isn’t particularly part of their plan, they have made it a point to speak to the homeless just as much as others. “We’d like to encourage people not to ignore them,” said Mikael. “We want to show that they’re humans, just like us. They may be struggling and going through hard times, and maybe they’re not trying to fix it… butt by intertwining stories of the homeless with ‘normal’ people, we’re trying to spread the message and show people that they are still human beings. Acknowledging them makes a world of a difference.”
As of today, the three young men do not view their project as a business and are doing it purely out of passion. However, they do hope that their initiative will attract attention, perhaps leading to future freelance contracts or even a published book or short film. For now, the main idea rests in connecting people together and sharing stories from Montreal. “The truth in any big city is that you never know who has an interesting or beautiful story to share, until you stop to ask them,” Samuel said.
Together, they seem to fit the mould of today’s generation. In focusing on creating a better future for others, as well as themselves, they fall within the modern concept of doing what you love out of passion, rather than for security and money. “We’re young enough to try this, and to see where it takes us,” they said. “We’re working on asking better questions, finding better stories, and refining our skills to make this the best it can be.”
If you see them in the streets, don’t be afraid to share your story. After all, nothing can be more beautiful than sharing a story from your past or your love for the city in which you live.