Canadian winter is finally here. While many of us would gladly hole up indoors til June, there are still some die-hards (inexplicably) enjoying the cold. They often take to the parks; sealing their baby strollers with plastic wrap, bicycling(!) or hitting the rink.
Kate Hutchinson is a photographer whose series, The Park, documents all-season park life in Montreal. SDTC asked her about her work, why we can never have too many parks, and how she survives the frigid winter in Montreal.
SDTC: How do you decide who to shoot?
KH: When going out to shoot for The Park, I would always have to psych myself up a bit. Talking to strangers does not come naturally to me. At first I was attracted to those who stood out, those with an interesting or different outfit. But as time went on, I would try to make sure that I had covered all the different groups that I noticed used the park. When looking through what I had shot so far I would notice that I didn’t have a good photo of a cross-country skier if it was winter or I was missing a good photo of a slack line walker if it was summer, and so I would try to fill this hole when I next went out to shoot.
What separates a good subject from a great one?
To me a good subject is anyone who is willing to be photographed, point blank. But what makes a good portrait photograph is a whole other kettle of fish. You need the right light, the right composition, the right expression, the right gesture, the right background, and on and on. I am always working on bringing all of these elements together to try to tell a story about a person and the environment that they find themselves in.
You mention that people seem comfortable in the park, like it is an extension of their private space. Why do you think that is?
The area that I photographed is very densely populated. Most residential buildings in this area are triplexes and so that means that most people have a little balcony as their outdoor space. Actual grass and dirt is a commodity that few have the luxury of owning. And then if people do have a backyard, these areas are often very small. So people in the plateau/mile end area of Montreal often congregate in parks. The parks have become people’s backyards. They are where you meet friends for a picnic, a game of pétanque, or a birthday party.
What do you love most about park life in Montreal?
I love feeling like you are among your neighbours when you are in the park; you are part of a community. Whether you interact with them or not is up to you, but just being there seems to me to express an openness to those around you. Montreal’s parks are particularly well used and green space is at a premium. They are vital to survival in a dense city and they are well loved. I have made friends in the park, and I am in one park or another almost every day, particularly because I have a three year old. I think that parks are vital to every city. Parks are for the neighbourhood, and as long as those that live around a park are using it and enjoying it, it is serving its purpose.
Do you have any fun memories of the park from your own life?
I did go to Mount Royal quite a bit when I was younger. I went cross-country skiing with my parents, I did cross-country running on the mountain with school, I went tobogganing in the park, and then when I was a teenager I went to the Sunday tam-tams with my friends. I don’t really have a particular memory that stands out. It was just always a place that was there, a constant that you could rely on, and probably a place that I took for granted. In pursuing this project I stopped taking it for granted and really looked at it and realized how vital and important the park is to the city.
Which is your favourite winter park photo?
I do really like some of the landscape images. A park lightly frosted with snow is a wonderful thing to see. It makes me feel calm and peaceful to look at those images. I also always had a hard time getting good landscape images and so I’m very happy with those that did work out. Landscape photography doesn’t come as naturally to me as portraiture, or maybe it’s just that I haven’t done it for long enough yet.
What’s your favourite aspect of winter in Montreal? Least fave?
I love skiing and tobogganing in the park. I hate digging my car out of a snow bank.