A Walk in the Park

Concordia Professor Publishes Portraits of Park-Goers

For two and a half years, Hutchinson documented the many faces of Montreal’s parks. Photos courtesy Kate Hutchinson

Whether you’re strolling around Jeanne-Mance park or sitting in smoke clouds at Tam Tams, you’ll notice a wide range of Montreal’s populace casually enjoying the plethora of public green space in the city. For the devoted voyeur, or the casual observer, Montreal parks are perfect for people watching.
Though most of us stop at impermanent casual gazing, one of Concordia’s own has taken people watching a step further.

Concordia professor and photojournalist Kate Hutchinson has resided near Jeanne-Mance park for 13 years, but only began photographing Montreal’s park regulars back in spring 2013. Now, Hutchinson is releasing the cumulative amalgamation of portraits of park goers in her work, entitled The Park.

In the beginning, the photojournalist’s time was almost entirely devoted to her ten-month-old daughter. Visiting the park was a way to be a part of the world once again, she explained. She began photographing strangers very casually, but suddenly, Sunday strolls through Mount-Royal park became more than a regular reintegration ritual; she saw photo opportunities abounding on her weekly walks.

Kate Hutchinson is a Concordia professor and photojournalist

Without a doubt, you’ve seen other “people of the streets” photography. Projects such as Humans of New York or Portraits of America, which spotlight characters in the urban wild, have most definitely made appearances on your news feed. What distinguishes The Park from the rest?

It’s the setting. The Park offers a unique, differing vision of a quintessential Montreal staple. The considered use of two iconic Montreal green spaces showcases a public diversity that is identifiably Quebecois.

And that’s part of the beauty; the diversity found at Jeanne-­Mance and Mount-­Royal is infinite. The Park shows how vital these spaces are to the neighbourhood and its populace.

“I want to highlight the importance of these places, and how anybody is welcome there,” she said. “To show the diversity of people who can use it happily and without threat, and hopefully without too much judging.”

The range of people Hutchinson came across while photographing is unsurprisingly vast.

“My absolute favourite…I really like teenagers.”

“My absolute favourite… I really like teenagers. They’re such an interesting group. I really enjoyed the ones that hung around the gazebo,” Hutchinson recalls warmly. The group of friendly, playful electro­loving youth used to congregate together each Sunday for “Gazebo Mont­-Royal,” a mini­rave that took place at the now decrepit, ever decaying, Mordecai Richler-dedicated gazebo. The festivities, and the gazebo have since been shut down.

“The teenagers came dressed in all kinds of quirky get ups, and seemed as though they were kind of lost in life, but this was where they found their people,” Hutchinson added.

Themes of interconnection and relationships abound in Hutchinson’s work, reflected in her diverse range of artistic influence. Among them, Hutchinson credits American photographer Alessandra Sanguinetti as one of the most prominent. The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of Their Dreams, Sanguinetti’s collection documenting two child cousins on a rural farm, published in 2010, is one of Hutchinson’s main inspirations.

“I find her work really beautiful,” Hutchinson said. “She spent time with these kids [Guille and Belinda] growing up for many, many years. It’s something she became very close to.”

A devoted interest in human relations dominates The Park. Other notable encounters with Montreal’s park-goers sparked wine-infused chats with reunited long-time friends.

“There were two girls who had grown up together, neither of whom still lived in Montreal,” Hutchinson said. “They were reunited in the park. They were having a glass of wine on a blanket during Tam Tams.”

The friends invited Hutchinson to join them after she had taken their photo. “One was a chef, going back to Australia. The other was a member of Cirque du Soleil,” she continued. “They were meeting in the park because it was significant to them.”

Another woman she met while photographing gave her a sampling of a Turkish dish to try after they met.

“She was very kind. She didn’t speak great English. She was preparing dolma, which is wrapped in some kind of leaf,” Hutchinson said. “She explained to me inside it was meat, and she gave me some to take home. I cooked it and it was delicious.”

After two and a half years, and hundreds of photos later, Hutchinson’s new book is released on Nov. 17.

“It’s a celebration of the accomplishment. Lots of people that I know will be there,” Hutchinson said, looking forward to enjoying a glass of wine and ruminating on the massive database of humanity The Park has become.

The Park Book Launch // Tuesday, Nov. 17 // 5 to 8 p.m. // Atelier B (5758 St. Laurent Blvd.) // $35 for the book