Aux Écuries | An Installation

Last year I had the great pleasure of shooting Mammifères, a young new theatre group whose first play—Les Grand-Mères Mortes (The Dead Grandmothers)—is a surprisingly funny and touching performance that aims at helping children cope with the tragic loss of a loved one. I was very impressed by what they had achieved with such a delicate subject, so when the beautiful and talented Karine Sauvé asked me to shoot an art installation derived from the same play, I jumped at the opportunity.

In collaboration with Théâtre Aux Écuries—a stunning space in the north end of Montreal—this offshoot project allowed a group of children from a nearby school to participate in the creation of the artwork on display, as well as lending their voices to the audio environment (an ambient piece by Nicolas Letarte-Bersianik).

I shot with what has become my go to kit these days: X-T1, X100T and X-Pro1. The X-Pro1 is usually in my bag, fitted with a specific lens that I know I won't be using as much, while the other two hang around my neck. At any time I can switch one of the two bodies to get a different combo. Of course I could technically strap on three bodies if I REALLY wanted to... But at that point it tends to hinder movements—ditch the prime fetish and get a zoom already bucko ;)

I used the X100T (23mm), the 35mm and the 56mm: so 35, 50 and 85 equivalents; the holy trinity of focal lengths. I knew beforehand I wouldn't need anything wider but I had the 14 just in case. Didn't use it.  I had also brought a full contingent of lighting gear, but although the ambience was notably subdued, the pinpointing of the small light sources on each piece allowed me to mostly shoot handheld at very comfortable shutter speeds and ISO numbers (200-400). When it comes to lighting, it's always about gathering just the right amount of photons for the subject: spot metering and a soft glow can be surprisingly powerful if you don't need to light an entire room. Darkness was an ally here, contributing to the mood of the space.


With the morning sun streaming in through the colored glass windows, I couldn't help shooting B-roll of the theatre itself; I just love this kind of stuff. Turns out they did too and a few days later I got a call to licence some of the images for their website redesign—a totally unnexpected perk. Great folks over there.

The participating classroom was invited as part of the opening of the installation and I shot the reception, which was cute as hell—kids grinning from ear to ear, wide-eyed, glasses of sparkling cider in hand... Non-alcoholic obviously. I'm not showing these images because children, permissions etc... But I love a bunch of them and I'm pointing this out for one specific reason: while Karine was giving her short speech, I noticed kids looking at me everytime I'd hit the shutter of the X-T1 (I had the 56mm and the X100T around my neck). As quiet as it is compared to a DSLR, in a silent room, at close quarters, it was still drawing attention to itself. I didn't want that. So I switched to the electronic shutter and boom... Incognito. It's amazing how much being as invisible as possible can impact the results of a shoot and the ES is just one more way to blend in we now have at our disposal. I LOVE this new feature. And with the last update making the camera intelligent enough to allow a signal to the hotshoe when the shutter is set at or below flash sync speed, I'm pretty much always on MS+ES (don't make me go into the details of a very infuriating 5 minutes spent cursing against my triggers during a shoot... Because MS+ES. 'Nuff said). 

That and shooting wide open at noon. At 1/30000 sec. Seriously, I get giddy every time this happens.

Huge thanks again to Mammiferes and the great folks at Théatre Aux Écuries.


P.S The very last image breaks my heart. But it deserves to be there.