© Romain Laurendeau. Football fields in the center of Bab El Oued, Algeria. On Oct. 5th, 1988, a youthful revolt ignited in the neighborhood of Bab El Oued. The rest of Algeria followed. During clashes with government forces some Algerians were shot and killed. The tensions mounted. Algeria plunged into a decade of civil conflict. Nowadays, peace has returned in Bab El Oued but the wounds of the “Black Decade” are still vivid. Its history as a neighborhood with a Mediterranean atmosphere of friendship and solidarity is not enough to obscure the decrepit state of the buildings, unemployment (which has peaked), radicalized behaviors and the emergence of new drugs. Bab El Oued suffocates, forgotten by its government.

The Little Photo Festival That Could

Zoom, a fledgling photography gathering in Canada, is urging photographers to invent their own rules and forge their own paths

The city of Saguenay, 200 kilometers north of Quebec, might not suit the international photo crowd, but it’s ideal for a tight-knit community of image-makers to convene and conjure. This November, the small Canadian city plays host to the Zoom Photo Festival, a relatively modest-sized event that is punching above its weight. Zoom has won its spurs supporting local documentary photographers rather than positioning itself as a festival of the industry.


Canadian photography is diffuse across the nation’s vast expanses. In order to distinguish themselves, Canadian photographers are leapfrogging others with experiments in new narrative possibilities. General and Artistic Director of Zoom Photo festival, Michel Tremblay and Laurence Butet-Roch, a photographer and photo editor who joined the team last year, told Blink’s Laurence Cornet about the festival and how fits into Canada’s visual landscape.

Laurence Cornet: How did the Zoom Festival start and evolve over the years?

Michel Tremblay: The festival was born in 2010, inspired by many magazines that were showing the work of great photographers. Visa pour l’Image was an inspiration as I am passionate about photographers traveling the world to show it.

© Dominic Bracco III. Merchants in San Pedro Sula, Mexico, go about their business while a body lies in the middle of the street. Dead bodies sit for hours before the coroner has time to pick them up.

Michel Tremblay: We started with 8 to 10 exhibitions to establish the credibility of the festival. We had enthusiastic responses so, we slowly increased the number of exhibitions and started to travel to see other festivals.

We went to Visa pour l’Image and World Press Photo where photographers Maxime Corneau and Nicolas Lévesque introduced us to people. Networking at these events helped us grow the festival. Laurence Butet-Roch also contributed to increase the aura of the festival. We might only have 16 exhibitions this year, but the quality is really high.

© Leonora Baumann
@DYSTURB. A photo by Catalina Martin Chico showing young women in a luna park in Sana’a, has been wheat-pasted by the #DYSTURB group on a wall outside the Parmentier Metro Station, Paris.

Michel Tremblay: Since the first year, we have had a competition about man within his environment called Human Nature, for which we receive a lot of submissions. Last year, we had a competition in partnership with Reporters Sans Frontieres. The winner, Romain Larendeau, will have an exhibition of his work at the festival this year.

We just launched another competition in partnership with Italian festival Transizioni and French organization, FreeLens, that is called Nouvelles Ecritures and rewards multimedia works.

Laurence Cornet: Is it a response to the specificities of local photojournalism?

Laurence Butet-Roch: One of the reasons why I came back to Canada is my determination to support various journalistic projects here. The quality of production is exceptional and the language quite unique — it’s a non-traditional approach of documentary, imbued with poetry. Unfortunately, there is not yet a proper market for photography here.

© Jerome Delay. Election observers sit in an empty polling station for the presidential elections in Bujumbura, Burundi, Tuesday July 21, 2015. Gunfire and explosions rocked the capital overnight, leaving at least one dead. Burundi has been rocked by violence that has left more than 100 people dead. Over 144,000 people have fled the country since the ruling party announced President Pierre Nkurunziza’s candidacy in April.
© Bruno Decock. A lonely man in the park, Ghent, Belgium, October 2013.

Laurence Butet-Roch: Though there has been a renewal for the past five to six years, with the rise of festivals such as Zoom, or organizations like ONF (National Office for Film) who are leaders in the field of interactive documentaries. They are behind The Enemy, by Karim Ben Khelifa, and Fort McMoney, by David Dufresne and Philippe Brault. Montreal also hosts a bunch of startups focusing on journalism and virtual reality. So, ideas are booming, along with a strong will to find places to show and share these projects with the rest of the country.

The problem is that we are a vast country with a limited population that looks for information in foreign press. So, the local landscape is mainly made of regional papers that just start to develop an interesting photography direction. La Presse, for instance, with the app La Presse +, gives more space to images. The Global and Mail also started to print double spreads. Our visual history is young, but a lot of photographers strive to show that there are important stories here.

© Pete Muller/Prime for the Washington Post. A health worker takes the temperature of a child at an Ebola checkpoint on the road between Kenema and Freetown, Sierra Leone on Saturday, August 16, 2014. The government imposed an array of checkpoints along the road in a bid to quarantine areas affected by Ebola.
© Nicolas Levesque. Guy Bélanger Québécois musician. During the 20th edition of the Saguenay Jazz and Blues Festival, I wandered around all the areas where this rhythmic event was taking place. In order to interview them, I accompanied musicians, technicians and festival-goers during the sound tests, rehearsals, clean-up time and shows, both backstage and on- stage. By doing this, I could observe their concentration, their pleasure, their confidence or their doubts and all the trances that submerged them. These are the moments I was looking for : amazingly I was part of the context but they totally forgot about me.
© Renauld Phillipe.

Laurence Cornet: How does the festival position itself within this context?

Michel Tremblay: The festival brings in a lot of spectators, specially students. We have had more than 6,000 students visit the festival since . Our responsibility is to help create a visual culture in Quebec. This is the reason why the festival doesn’t take place in Montreal or Toronto but in Chicoutimi, where access to quality reportages produced in Canada is not easy. We bring images to the people, and they realize that a photo can be stronger than what they see on TV.

In the meantime, the festival distributes local stories and inspires photographers to work in-depth here. It looks like photographers have a hard time doing it, and it’s maybe because of a lack of means. This is the reason why we have a competition and we feature reportage on our Website once a month.

@ Jerome Deya. This work is a hymn to “unusual” bodies, bodies some people think should be hidden. Bodies which, like any others, express sensuality and emotions in the name of love, a reality felt by all of us whatever our appearance or disability. In a society in which erotic codes are omnipresent, the prevailing dictate of the image tends to mute people with disabilities and their sexuality. What is more, in the name of the common good, and of lofty principles, the conformist majority interferes in intimacy and decides what is allowed or not. Society’s view of handicap then becomes a source of discrimination.

Laurence Butet-Roch: The challenge is to have the rest of the world understand that they should look at what is happening in Canada because these are problems that they may face and in which Canada has some experience — good or not.

For a long time, Canada has had a very good image internationally — vast landscapes, welcoming people. It’s not entirely true anymore, and photographers who work in Canada have a role to play in raising awareness about the real face of the country. Their challenge is to prove the relevance, at an international level, of what is happening here.

@ Judith Prat. Sunrise in Rubaya in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Miners begin the journey to work at mines.

Laurence Cornet: Can you give some examples of such stories?

Laurence Butet-Roch: We can thank Stephen Harper for having destroyed the country because now we have plenty of stories. Canada is a developed country but relies economically on the exploitation of its natural resources, which presents of lot of risks. Oil sands in Alberta for instance is one of the most known of issue in Canada because their disastrous environmental and social impact.

Every mining or lumbering activity in the country should be documented and monitored to make sure they are developing in respect of the environment and the future of the country. There are stories about a project of pipeline crossing the country until the U.S., and about gold mining in the Arctic. Climate change will have a huge impact on the Northern regions of Canada.

© Ed Ou/Reportage by Getty Images. During a hunting trip, Damien Ishlutak (left), 10, and his father Levi (right), 35, hunt for seals from their boat in Pangnirtung, Canada on Nov. 14, 2013. With six children to feed and support, Levi often struggles to put food on the table, living day to day, and pay check to pay check. As communities in Nunavut are completely cut off from the rest of Canada by road, food and supplies are shipped at an extremely high cost by boat and plane, leading to exorbitant prices at the grocery stores. The Inuit have traditionally depended on hunting to provide food, shelter, and warmth for their families in the harsh arctic environment. Hunting provides much-needed sustenance for families. However, environmental groups often criticize the Inuit for hunting species claimed to have dwindling populations such as narwhal, belugas, seals, and polar bears. The current debate highlights the clash between traditional hunting practices and modern conservation science. PANGNIRTUNG, CANADA — NOVEMBER 14

Laurence Butet-Roch: Canada has a very dark past in terms of its treatment of First Nations, and there is still a lot of racism today. Just like in Europe and the U.S., Canada faces immigration and population aging. So, there are plenty of stories, and I think photographers see them.

The question is: “Where do they distribute them?” If these stories only interest Canada, that has only 2–3 festivals and about 10 publications, that doesn’t leave much room for them to be told.

Laurence Cornet: What opportunities do you see?

Laurence Butet-Roch: There is a Canadian School of photojournalism that is currently taking shape and editors should know about it. Our partnership with Blink will contribute to that awareness because if I were an editor and saw so many photographers in Canada, I would think that something is happening here and would like to explore more.

© Virginie Nyugen Hoang. Gaza, Beit Hanoun: Abdel Abu Ouda, and his son are resting in the living room of their house half destroyed during the bombing of summer 2014.

Laurence Butet-Roch: Everything is yet to be built, but there is a real visual culture developing in Canada, with the rise of new storytelling tools and mutual support among photographers. It’s an advantage for Canada not to have a photographic background. Everything is allowed and we can experiment.

Michel Tremblay: That’s what is interesting about the festival: we are part of this effervescence.


The Zoom Photo Festival runs from 4th-29th November in Saguenay, Canada. Follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Laurence Cornet is a writer, a photography critic and a curator based in Brooklyn. Her clients include L’Oeil de la Photographie, The Magnum Foundation, Images magazine, Vice, MSNBC, Vogue and Camera.

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