It’s hot. It can be sticky. There are new smells and embarrassing sounds. Weird liquids. Sometimes the lights are off, sometimes they’re on. And there’s an inordinate amount of skin-on-skin contact – at least in the summer. To put it mildly, it’s cozy. To put it accurately, it’s the metro.
Ah oui, le métro. Notre métro. An odd sphere of existence, where public meets private, and armpit meets stranger. Local creator, resistor, friend (according to his Instagram account), Mathieu Perron has been interested in the interplay between (im)personal interactions on public transit for a while. It’s the contrast that gets him. “You could not be in a more public space,” he observed when we met him at Café Bloom to discuss his latest project, Mon métro, “but everybody is just so so so in their bubble. That contrast really draws me in.”
Mon métro is a natural progression of Perron’s two most recent photography projects. In 2009, he started a 365 project called We Were Strangers. His mission: approach one stranger a day and have them take a self-portrait with his camera. But the results were mixed (not everyone excels at the art of the selfie), and Perron eventually tired of the daily exercise in forced interactions. Then one day, riding the 165, he Instagrammed a photo of two strangers “stuck together but not interacting at all”, and #strangersintransit was born. At last count, however, there were over 40,000 photos with the hashtag, and Perron decided he needed a more manageable project.
Mon métro puts the control back in Perron’s hands. Though it’s management, mismanagement, workings, and failings can be infuriating, which Perron acknowledges, there’s no denying that the aesthetics of our metro system certainly have a unique charm. For this project, he’s been photographing subjects at or around their metro station, in an attempt to capture what makes them and their station shine. In Perron’s words, “the Montréal metro system is known for its modern art, its piercing light and vibrant colours, but its passengers are what bring it alive”. Hey, that’s you guys!
His first shoot was at Place St-Henri, last April. Each post in a profile of the subject (profession, interest, likes, dislikes, canine companions) and some off-hand remarks about the shoot. As he’s progressing through the project (he’s published 19 of 68 stations), he’s increasingly on the lookout for people who can effectively communicate about why their metro station is their metro station, and why their metro station is tops.
People are invited to send him a message explaining why they want to participate in his project. He also seeks subjects out, ones who vibrancy, eloquence, style. Like Dalila Awada, a 23 year-old student and activist, who Perron wanted to include in his project as soon as he saw her speak against the proposed Charter of Quebec Values on Tout le monde en parle in September.
“With We Were Strangers, I was very-self critical of myself. I found I was mainly approaching skinny, 20-something white kids. I wasn’t approaching any racialized folks, I wasn’t approaching any bigger people, or older people. It was lacking equity, which I think showed my own insecurities. So I wanted Mon métro to be different, and I think so far it is.” After reflecting for a moment, he added, “though not when it comes to age or size. I’m mainly approaching hip artist-types: they may be brown, black or white, but they’re young and hip.” He paused for a moment: “I need to start finding some older subjects. That would be fun.”
The Namur shoot was one of his favourites, featuring the first volunteer for the project. Murphy-Perron was excited by the idea of shooting her because she was excited about Namur. She articulated perfectly why she loved her metro station, and had ideas for how she wanted the shoot to go. Given that she works at the SPCA and takes her dog to work everyday in a baby carriage, we get the enthusiasm.
Another favourite was Laurier Station, where he photographed a “fantastic, writer and all-round eccentric personality”.
“When I’m taking a photo of someone, and they’re just letting themselves be seen, a smile comes across my face, and they see that too, and it becomes reciprocal.”
“A stronger public transit system helps people connect with each other. Especially in a city that hibernates as much as we do.”
The latest installment is Jean-Talon, and Murphy-Peron found a kindred spirit in metrophile in Samuel Wood, who has website that explores the historical contributions of each metro station’s namesake (A History of Canada by Montreal Metro).
He’s got some big plans and grand designs for the future of this project. With the STM’s cooperation/approval/blessing/blind eye, he’d like, one day, to see one shot hung in each metro station, with the whole series together featured, fittingly, at Place des Arts.
To see the rest of the series and apply to be part of it, go here.
For Mathieu Perron’s personal site listing his other work and projects, go here.
To follow Caitlin Walsh Miller, Culture contributor, on Twitter, go here.
To forget all your troubles, forget all you cares, go downtown.