Gaspé families pose, at a distance, for once-in-a-lifetime photo project
Projet Matanie snowballed with hundreds of families 'wanting to be part of something'
Four hundred and sixty-six humans, 42 dogs, 16 cats, one alpaca, one chicken, two rabbits, a clarinet, a banjo and bagpipes.
That's what Matane, Que., photographer Caroline Vukovic was able to capture during the ten days she spent driving around the Matanie region with her camera, collecting snapshots of day-to-day life in eastern Quebec in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vukovic had to hit the brakes when the Quebec government asked people to avoid all non-essential travel on March 28.
But in the meantime, she was able to capture a unique moment in the history of her region.
"At one point, I was so moved I had to stop my car by the side of the road because I was so choked up," Vukovic said.
She never left her car while she was taking the photos, keeping a safe distance between herself and her subjects.
Families stepped out onto their porch, stood beside their barns or peered out the window — smiling and waving, many of them holding up the now iconic Ça va bien aller — "Everything will be OK" — rainbow, a symbol Quebecers have put up everywhere as a message of hope for passersby.
The idea for Projet Matanie came to Vukovic on March 19. A photography professor at the CEGEP de Matane, Vukovic said she missed her students and her colleagues and decided she wanted to continue to work on the one thing that unites them — photography.
She turned to Facebook, asking families willing to be photographed during the quarantine to sign up.
"I was so surprised," said Vukovic, whose inbox was flooded.
Her friend Anne-Marie Lamontagne joined her to help take down addresses and plan an itinerary, so Vukovic could visit as many homes as possible in one day.
"I think people need to be part of something," Lamontagne said in an interview on CBC's Breakaway.
"We all are part of something big now. We all know that. But to be part of a project that is fun, colourful — I think it's really important."
Lamontagne also credits Vukovic's contagious, upbeat personality for the beaming faces on every one of the 193 photos that were posted to Projet Matanie's Facebook page.
"I think people here are showing great resilience," said Lamontagne. "In those pictures you can see their smiles."
Having a lot of space to breathe and move around also helps people in regions get through the ordeal, Lamontagne said.
"We don't have to rush to get into the grocery store. We have no problem fighting over toilet paper," she said.
Now that Vukovic is back home, she has asked her students to send in some of their photos capturing their lives under quarantine.
She said she is looking forward to the day she can invite all those who posed for her to meet in one room, to look at the pictures together in a photo exhibit.
"It's a project that will reflect who we are," Vukovic said.
"When you go to Matanie once, it's tattooed on your heart forever."
With files from CBC Quebec's Breakaway