“Does the wordless language of photography, this visual voice, engender communication between the head and the heart? Much of my early documentary work is a shout of disapproval. It was a headstrong approach to the seeing, execution and presentation of images of the urban landscape. Then, I made my first visit to Europe and experienced the human scale of the built environment and the interaction of people with their surroundings. The seeing changed; it became passion over reason: the heart pushing the head around, just for once!”
– Brian Merrett
Brian Merrett is a Montreal-based photographer whose work explores the city’s architecture, issues of heritage and land preservation and, at times, the relationship between ecology and theology.
Born in 1945 in Saint John, New Brunswick, the son of Montreal architect and town planner John Campbell Merrett, Brian Merrett apprenticed as an engineering and architectural draftsman before taking up photography in the mid-1960s. From 1968 to 1969, he trained with commercial photographer Lennart Koraen and began photographing urban architectural projects, including the restoration of the 19th-century Bank of Montreal.
As Montreal was emerging from the social and political upheaval of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution and the October Crisis, as well as from the excitement of Expo ’67, Merrett began to take an interest in the massive urban infrastructure projects that were threatening historic buildings. He used photography as part of several heritage preservation campaigns, creating the series Autoroute Ville-Marie (1969–1972) and In and Around Windsor Station (1972). His 1973 photographs of the historic Shaughnessy House convinced architect and philanthropist Phyllis Lambert to purchase and restore the building, incorporating it into the Canadian Centre for Architecture. In his political engagement, Merrett joins other Anglo-Montreal photographers of his generation, such as Clara Gutsche, David Miller and Melvin Charney, who have taken a similar interest in their local urban environment.
Merrett served as staff photographer at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from 1983 to 2001 and co-authored, with François Rémillard, two books on Montreal’s architectural heritage. He has exhibited his photographs in solo exhibitions at the Canadian Centre for Architecture and McCord Museum, as well as in group exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and Encontros da Imagem in Braga, Portugal. Merrett’s photographs are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, among others.