Solargraphy in the City

In the spring of 2020, the Museum of Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal was scheduled to present an exhibition entitled « Solargraphy in the City ».

However, the exhibition did not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as the Oratory closed its doors on March 19, 2020, the same day as Saint Joseph’s Day!

The previous year, Fabrice Lassort, a French artist-photographer, had come to Montreal on several occasions to carry out a project in collaboration with the Marguerite-Bourgeoys Historic Site and its Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel as well as Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal.

For this project, the artist installed small cameras without lenses (a pinhole camera, a small black box with a tiny hole to let the light in) in order to make what are called solargraphs. Thanks to very long exposure times, in this case several months, these rudimentary devices capture the sun’s rays invisible to the naked eye and produce images that are printed on black and white photographic paper placed inside this darkroom.

Unexpectedly, the pandemic situation prolonged the experiment as the cameras were left in the Stations of the garden of the Way of the Cross and on the Oratory grounds for much longer than expected. The devices were then removed by the Oratory’s horticulturists and mailed to the artist in France so that he could develop them.

The result is amazing and striking. The solargraphs are of an intense blue because the long exposure times have carbonized the silver salts. Some figurative images plunge us into a strange atmosphere, as if time had stopped, as if life had frozen… This is not without reminding us of the first days of the pandemic and the total halt of activities… Other rather abstract images, almost organic, of great beauty and complexity, come from cameras damaged by the vagaries of weather conditions.

The Oratory warmly thanks Fabrice Lassort for having shared the fruit of his original work, thanks to this virtual exhibition that highlights two jewels of Montreal’s religious heritage.