Photography

With a View

MICHEL HUNEAULT

In September 2020 the photographer Michel Huneault was invited to do a six-week artist residency in Frelighsburg, Québec, to document the area of Canada and the United States along the forty-fifth parallel (the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole), between Lakes Champlain and Memphremagog, an area shared by Québec and the state of Vermont. As in Huneault’s previous work (including a series on the European migrant crisis in 2015, which appeared in Geist 98, and another series in 2017 on the border at Roxham Road, New York, an entry point commonly used by asylum seekers from the US), he was once again attracted to the border: “not to the official ports of entries but more precisely where we don’t really see it. I was curious to find its path, with the initial intent to document it in a typological and archival fashion for posterity.”

Borders between the two countries have had a long history of being easy to cross and right into the late 1990s travellers could often make the journey with simply a smile and a wave to the border guards. But since 9/11 it has become increasingly difficult to make the crossing and the generally liberal and progressive Québecois living near the border described to Huneault an increasing wariness of the political climate south of the border. The near-complete closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has also meant that asylum seekers trying to come into Canada have been turned away. Huneault writes: “Goods, businesspeople and hockey players are now allowed to cross in, but most refugee claimants still can’t. Canada is setting a worrying precedent.”

The exact location of the border in the area Huneault photographed is well known to locals—it lies in farmland, backyards and orchards—but Huneault himself had to proceed with caution. Were he to linger too long or venture too close to the border, authorities from both sides quickly arrived on the scene: “The border here is invisible, but filled with sensors and cameras.” After making the photographs, Huneault says, “I had to quickly mark down the exact location of the border on the photos, with a black square, like a digital Post-It, [so] as to not forget where the other country began. This simple and precise addition—repetitive and clerical—accidentally transformed the document. The curtain had fallen, the vision was obstructed, the sanitary and political screen stood like a stoic monolith in the quiet and surreal landscape.”

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