Gaspé families pose, at a distance, for once-in-a-lifetime photo project

Families in Matane will be able to look back on their COVID-19 quarantine through the lens of photographer Caroline Vukovic, who drove around to capture their stories before the Quebec government shut down non-essential travel in the Gaspé and elsewhere.

Projet Matanie snowballed with hundreds of families 'wanting to be part of something'

Geneviève Audy, pictured here with her son Théo Pelletier, said taking the time to pose for Caroline Vukovic 'really brought a ray of sunshine to our day! We took some time to smile, and tell each other Ça va bien aller — Everything will be OK.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

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.

From left to right, Jean-Guy Gauthier, Elvis the dog, Théo Béland, Marylou Béland, Gloria Béland, Caroline Simard Béland and Ti-Fille. The family wanted to take part in Projet Matanie to shake up their isolation routine, said Simard Béland. 'The kids were so happy to look for bright clothes to make up the colours of the rainbow.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

"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.

Klara Gagnon-Yelle, Martine Yelle, Nicolas Gagnon and Rose Gagnon-Yelle, with Poco and Bouddha: 'We wanted to share our optimism and show our families who don't live in the region that we are in good spirits.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

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.

Martin Grant and Valérie Legrand, posing with their son Félix: 'Caroline showed up with her contagious, positive attitude, to capture this small snapshot of our new reality. What we liked most about this project is that beyond its simplicity, it shows our resilience.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

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.

Brigitte Michaud wanted to take part in the project because it allowed her to thank all the women who are taking care of others during the pandemic. 'We have to recognize that work in our society.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

"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.

From left to right, Malie Gauthier, Renaud Gauthier, Christina Lamarre, Darrel Gauthier and Lilou the dog: 'Caroline is a good friend, and this project brought us together through people's smiles, and it was good for our community.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

"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."

Benoit Poulin played Scotland the Brave on his bagpipes when Vukovic stopped by his home. 'I wanted to encourage people in my region, to remind them that everything will be all right if we work hard.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

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.

From left to right, Geneviève Bélanger, Dany Bélanger and Gilbert Beaulieu: 'We wanted to portray the importance of agriculture during this crisis and show that we continue to work, day in, day out.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

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."

Allens Pelletier, left, and his colleague Isabelle Coulombe work as paramedics in the Matanie region. 'When I heard about the project I thought it would be good to show our support to the community that is in isolation, a way for us to thank them for respecting the rules and therefore protecting us all.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)
From left to right, Caroline Gauthier, Zackary Fournier, Marily Fournier and Dany Fournier: 'We wanted to show that despite the gravity of the situation, it is possible to smile, have fun, relax and enjoy the free time we normally have to chase after. This crisis is forcing us to take a pause, perhaps a pause humanity needed, to get back to basics.' (Submitted by Caroline Vukovic)

With files from CBC Quebec's Breakaway

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