Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Haunting images of life on the St. Lawrence River in Canada

July 13, 2018 at 6:00 AM

Charles-Frederick Ouellet grew up near the Saguenay River in Quebec. His interest in photography began when he was a teenager, and he went on to study it in college. At first he was mainly interested in photography as a way to document skateboarding. It wasn’t until he was in his 20s that he began to be interested in documentary photography. But that early interest in skateboarding remains with him. “One thing I learned from skateboarding is: It forces you to look at urbanism and architecture with a different perspective,” he told In Sight. “Through skateboarding, I learned how to create and improvise in the urban landscape. I do apply the same pattern for photography. You just have to open your mind and learn to look differently.”

Ouellet’s experience growing up near a river made him feel that coastlines are the best places to experience the landscape surrounding us, and for his latest book, “Le Naufrage” (“The Shipwreck”), he gravitated to the St. Lawrence River.

Many of Ouellet’s projects have the St. Lawrence as a starting point because of the important role it plays in the lives of the people of Quebec. Since the province’s earliest days, the river has served as a resource for food and water, an artery for travel and provisions, and home for dozens of settlements.

Ouellet told In Sight that it wasn’t difficult to find his subjects because he used to live in a town on the river and knew many of the fishermen. It is through their perspective that he shot “Le Naufrage.”

“My work is anchored in the documentary tradition, but the idea of storytelling in a traditional documentary sense does not interest me that much,” he said. “When photographing, I don’t feel I have to stick to representation; instead, I try to see through the eyes of my subject. In ‘Le Naufrage,’ the images I was taking changed after I realized we were always talking about weather condition, history of navigation and natural elements. I felt I had shot enough of the men working at sea, and I started photographing the clouds, the sea and the shipwreck sites we were talking about. After that, my edit changed, and it became more poetic, less illustrative.”

Looking at the images in the book, it is true that the work is more interpretive and poetic than it is purely descriptive and linear. You can see more about the book at his website. In the meantime, you can see a selection of his images here.

(Charles-Frederick Ouellet)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

More on In Sight:

‘I photograph life, not death, because death cannot be seen’

Looking at the war in Syria through a Syrian photographer’s eyes

Inside the U.S.’s ‘National Radio Quiet Zone,’ where there’s no WiFi or cellphone service


Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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