The photographer who got the idea for her latest art series from what she didn’t see won the honour of exhibiting the images that she made visible.
Sarah Seené’s show, Encrées, which is on display until Dec. 31 at the Bibliothèque du Boisé in St-Laurent, Que., is the result of her answering an open call for submissions from the Maison Photo Montréal.
“Every year they offer a one-month residency to a photographer and the theme is always a Montreal neighbourhood. This year it was the borough of St-Laurent and entrants had to propose a project about it, tying it in with the Montreal Archives,” says Seené.
Upon researching the borough, she turned up reams of architectural images and photos of men, but hardly any of the neighbourhood’s women. She had found her subject.
“I proposed a project on the generations of women of St-Laurent, taking 11 contemporary 35-millimetre photos and 10 archival ones. The archivists were afraid it would be difficult to find what I wanted, but that meant my project was all the more worthwhile,” says Seené. Many of the archival images had to be cropped, cutting the men from group shots, so as to focus on the women of the era.
Seené found her contemporary subjects on social media. The results are poetic, moody and, in the case of a Nigerian-born resident and her children posed in front of a decorative mosaic, downright stunning.
“The borough has lots of diversity and in the exhibition there are women born in Brazil, Nigeria, Croatia and Taiwan, as well as from here. I wanted to depict this,” she says.
Her subjects pose mostly in front of the homes where they reside and in neighbourhood parks, to fulfill the condition that photos must be identifiable as having been taken in St-Laurent. Vegetation is seen in every shot, a nod to the borough’s logo of a tree that the photographer parallels to the Tree of Life, as well as the genealogical tree of the people pictured.
The series title, Encrées, or Inked, refers metaphorically to the women having been inked into posterity with these photos, but it’s also a homonym for ancrées, or anchored, in that they have set down roots in St-Laurent.
Seené herself arrived in Montreal from Belfort, France, in 2016. She learned photography as a hobby at her high school and, before getting a degree in literature and film production, continued with art school lessons in silver-print photography, a medium she uses to this day.
“I enjoy the surprises that come with the development of film. Digital photography doesn’t hold the same magic for me,” says the 32-year-old who has been a professional art photographer for nine years. Her earlier work experimented with Polaroid shots that translated into commissions for album covers.
Just before this series, she was working on another, titled Fovea, which was named for the tiny area in the eye that controls fine focus. It’s about the resilience of adolescents and young adults who are visually challenged. “Some were born blind, others lost their sight in recent years, but all are full of optimism with not an ounce of misery,” says Seené.
“It was paradoxical for me to be photographing people who would never see the prints. But I had descriptions posted in braille when the photos were exhibited in the summer of 2018 in Brussels.”
A short Super 8 film she made is now also part of the project. She’s looking for a Montreal venue for another showing and hopes to turn the photos into a book with braille.
“The principal theme in all my work is resilience,” says Seené. “I work in Outremont and next I hope to do a series on Hasidic women.”
See more of Seené’s work at sarahseene.com.