Focus on the collection: Benoit Aquin
The Mégantic series explores the aftermath of a devastating explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. During the night of July 5 to July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying 7.7 million litres of crude oil rolled away from its overnight halt. Travelling more than eleven kilometres, it derailed and exploded in the heart of the town, killing 47 people. This unprecedented tragedy, the worst non-passenger derailment in Canadian history, was met with shock, outrage, and calls for the safer transportation of hazardous materials through populated areas.
As soon as Aquin heard about the explosion, he travelled to the town and began photographing, often working at night with a flash. He visited the area over several months, creating a body of work that speaks to the tragedy on a number of levels: economic, political, environmental, social, and personal.
Not wanting to re-victimize his subjects, the artist avoided capturing sensationalized images of human suffering. Instead, Aquin developed friendships, giving him an opportunity to learn about the tragedy from individual points of view. The final works in the series are evocative, as seen in Polymer Siding, Outside of Melted House and Debris at the Epicentre of the Disaster, respectively, that depict a house’s melted and drooping façade, and the charred remains of a book at the centre of the explosion. This powerful series highlights specific aspects of the disaster, while expressing the emotional toll of a community coming to grips with unspeakable loss.
The works of Benoit Aquin have been reproduced in magazines around the world, including Time Magazine, Canadian Geographic, The Guardian, Foto8, Canadian Art, Walrus Magazine, L’actualité and Art Forum, as well as newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and La Presse. His photographs are also exhibited in art galleries nationally and internationally.
In 2006, the Professional Federation of Quebec Journalists awarded him the Prix Antoine-Desilets, news category. He has also won the Lux Grand Prix twice: in 2001, in the photojournalism category, for his Summit of the Americas series; and again in 2007, in the landscape category, for work pertaining to Arctic global warming. In that same year he also received the Canadian National Newspaper Award.
In 2008, Aquin’s series The Chinese Dust Bowl earned him the National Magazine Award Silver Medal for Photojournalism and Photo Essays, as well as the Prix Pictet, a major photography prize for environmentally themed photography, sponsored by the Swiss bank Pictet et Cie.
In the words of the artist:
A collective and global approach to solving problems is a key issue for the artist. Mégantic is similar in spirit to one of his previous projects: “My series The Chinese Dust Bowl shows just what happens when we mismanage the environment. These issues should not just be seen in the context of one country; they are global issues. They affect us all. And as a global population, we must solve them.”