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Mario Laplante

In the spring of 1999 I completed a project that brought me back to my origins. It began with a 1915 panoramic photograph of an army base, located in St-Jean d'Hiberville, a city 30 miles south of Montreal. The photograph, which had been in my family since the end of the First World War, was of the first battalion of French Canadians to be sent to France to fight in the Great War. A group of 600 men standing in the middle of a cold Quebec winter waiting to leave a condition of innocence for a baptism by fire.

I microscopically examined the old photograph, then painstakingly scanned each of the soldiers' faces, creating hundreds of digital files. Each of the images was digitally enlarged and cropped, then hand-printed using silkscreen and lithography. The original 12" x 28" panoramic photograph became an 8' x 20' wall installation made up of 600 separate prints. An old structure has been updated - the new form provides individual pieces of information which are more accessible but the context becomes blurred and more universal.

I am fascinated by the potential of an art practice that raises consciousness about perceiving the layers that are everywhere, and new ways of calling attention to the passages between the new and the old, of weaving the old places into the new. At the heart of "St-Jean, Quebec" I examine and mark our transitory passing here on earth. I explore the perceived truth of the photograph, and how it is often used as a shield against death. One can summon up not only a particular person who may have passed from this earth, but indeed entire groups of people. By mining memories that may be conjured by a photograph, I connect with and claim memory, loss, history, culture, and place.


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