“Had to be there”: Fortunately, Marc-Étienne Mongrain was there

“Had to be there”: Fortunately, Marc-Étienne Mongrain was there
“Had to be there”: Fortunately, Marc-Étienne Mongrain was there

Everyone who frequents the local music scene knows him even without knowing him. The familiar face near the stage or the backstage entrance, at Esco, at Club Soda, at Festif!, in Baie-Saint-Paul, at the FME in Rouyn-Noranda or at the Francos, camera around your neck. Photographer Marc-Étienne Mongrain launches today Had to be there. A look at the Quebec music scene (2013-2023)a collection of moments captured in front of and behind the stage, prefaced by Louis-Jean Cormier and commented on by some of his favorite subjects, Hubert Lenoir, Safia Nolin, Philippe Brach and Klô Pelgag.

Hardcover, glossy pages, color, even if Mongrain prefers black and white photos: Had to be there is first of all a superb object, stuffed with lively images. Several portraits, like that of Lucien Francoeur which takes up all of page 30. That look! And that of Fanny Bloom, two pages later, hugging her lover in her arms, at the back of an exterior stage (at the Francos?). Page 43, the face made by Jérôme Dupras of Cowboys Fringants, who turned towards the photographer, with the audience behind him, lit lighters in hand.

Another, moving one, page 207: Sarahmée hugging the former Francos programming director, Laurent Saulnier, backstage, just after the tribute concert to her brother, Karim Ouellet, presented on the large outdoor stage, at the summer 2022. “What made me happy,” confides the photographer, “was when I called the artists to ask them if it was okay for a particular photo of them to be in the book and they answered me : “But it’s my favorite!” They too must relive this trip by seeing these photos, since there are some who look young in this book! »

A musician himself, Marc-Étienne Mongrain came to photography somewhat by chance, returning from a weekend spent in New York with his sister’s camera. “Looking at them, three or four in the lot looked like magazine photos. I thought maybe there was something there. »

Thus, from promotional portrait contracts to mandates to keep in mind the strong images of different music festivals, Mongrain has embedded itself in the local scene, gaining the trust of artists, above all, as Cormier writes in his preface, “ knowing how to disappear, fade away, withdraw from the field of vision so that we forget that there is a “kodak” in the place. For that, Marc-Étienne Mongrain is a real magician,” who admits, however, that he is not really passionate about photography: “Honestly, photography doesn’t interest me that much — I’ve never “shot” with film. film because precisely, the process does not interest me. I also have no qualifications to be a director of photography on film sets. »

“I’m not a journalist either, because I have no objectivity. » Marc-Étienne is a fan of music and those who make it. His camera is his key, through which he approaches artists and their environment. This thanks to which he established real friendships with some of them, like Philippe Brach and Klô Pelgag, to whom entire sections of the book are devoted.

“Frankly, I don’t know what this book shows about our music scene, but I know that it has never been shown, and I don’t understand why,” noted the photographer, astonished. “We have just learned of Ferland’s death: why do we always see the same photos of him? Where are the photos? backstage of the concert 1 time 5 ? », the famous Saint-Jean-Baptiste concert of 1976 bringing together Robert Charlebois, Gilles Vigneault, Yvon Deschamps, Claude Léveillée and our late little king.

Mongrain interviewed people in the field and archivists of Quebec popular musical culture: Had to be there could well be the first work of its kind from the man who made the name of illustrious photographers who have documented the history of rock, such as Anton Corbijn, Mick Rock and the British Pennie Smith, including the legendary photo of Paul Simonon smashing his bass was used for the cover of the no less legendary London Calling (1979) by The Clash.

Page 50: on a black background, Klô Pelgag stares at us with a serious look, hair dyed canary yellow, with her red hood and pleated collar. This photo served as a model for the painter Florence Obrecht, who created the album cover Our Lady of Seven Sorrows (2020).

“I was a teenager in the 1990s; Daniel Bélanger and Jean Leloup had to fight to capture my attention. I listened to them a little, but it was Kurt Cobain who won, not because he spoke to me more than them, but because Kurt had an aura. We saw more [de photos] from him that [celle sur] on the cover of his album or his music video: photography allows us to build this aura”, to fuel the legend, the magic, around the image of the musicians. This is also why he takes out his “kodak”: “Some of the photos I take have an effect on me and I know that they will still have an effect on me in ten years when I look at them again. Many of the musicians are also attached to their photos — most have a copy at home. »

Behind-the-scenes photos are particularly valuable. Page 183, Luc Plamondon placing one hand on Klô’s shoulder, the other on Safia Nolin’s neck. Page 141, Philippe Brach and Clémence DesRochers exchanging a knowing look. Pages 166 and 167, in the boxes of Belle and Bum in 2017, Vivianne Roy (Les Hay Babies) shows her buttocks while Safia, François Lafontaine (Karkwa), Dany Placard, Fred Fortin and Olivier Langevin burst out laughing.

Pages 88 and 89, a break during a rehearsal, we see Klô, Laurence-Anne, Brach, N Nao and Lysandre (among others), breathing while sitting on the asphalt, their backs to the concrete wall. “We looked so much like a gang high school students hiding on the stairs so as not to be seen, says Mongrain. It was one of the first times we were able to get together, after the pandemic. Security came to us to tell us that we couldn’t stay there, but we stayed. At the end of the day, no one wanted to go home. It’s one of the beautiful memories I have from this pandemic. »

Had to be there. A look(s) at the Quebec music scene

Marc-Étienne Mongrain, KO Éditions, Montreal, 2024, 272 pages. In bookstores May 8.

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