St-Henri photographer tells the tale of COVID through 'The Confinement Diary' portraits
MONTREAL -- Carlos Viani worked in the hospitality industry before COVID-19 closed down his hotel.
He knew he was not alone in this unexpected change. To record the impact of the pandemic on people like himself, Carlos turned to his passion -- photography. Through social media, he rallied members of his St-Henri community to share their experiences in a photo collection called “The Confinement Diaries”.
During the first lockdown, Viani visited people at their homes with their “bubble” to try to capture the feelings of the confusing times.
The photographed says he was looking for moments of real connection.
“What I felt when I was taking the pictures and they were gazing at the lens of the camera was that ... that story in that moment needed to be expressed," he said.
He didn’t want any phony smiles and asked his subjects to give him an unadorned look.
“(I wanted) the cleanest, most neutral expression. Sometimes, when the camera comes, out the first reflex is to smile, which is totally unnatural," he said. “I didn't want that, what I want was to honour the moment.”
The project started small and then grew quite quickly.
“It did pull a lot of people together. One of the things I like about Carlos' project is that he really had a variety of different people from different backgrounds all come together and I like how he captured the elements of every different person” said Clifton Graves, who was photographed for The Confinement Diaries.
In their portrait, Clifton and his son wanted to show how they were struggling on more than one front and included a homemade “Black Lives Matter” message board.
“For me, it was a really good way to introduce him to everything that's going on socially and teach him about things that are happening around him instead of hiding the facts or trying to shelter him,” said Clifton, whose son is 12-years-old and finishing elementary school soon.
Every photo has a story behind it and can be viewed on Viani's website and along Notre Dame St. West near Rose de Lima – the neighbourhood that the people in the photos call home.
In this area, more than a few businesses were closed down during the lockdowns and left plenty of empty storefronts. The Societe de Developpment Commercial Les Quartiers du Canal helped Carlos display his art in those vacant windows.
Twenty-two large-scale portraits were on view here, but gradually the eye-catching public art helped to rent out those empty spaces.
SDC spokesperson Nathalie Di Palma said that even units that had been empty for years have recently been rented because of the exhibition. Only six portraits remain and the hope is that it’s a sign that the people and their neighbourhood are climbing out of the darkness of confinement soon, with brighter days ahead.