Thomas Bouquin

Thomas Bouquin is a French born photographer currently living in Montréal, Québec. He holds a BFA in photography from Concordia University where he received The Gabor Szilasi Prize in Studio Arts. Visually, he is working within the gap between photographic subjectivity and documentary traditions. His work has been exhibited at VU in Québec City (Canada, 2018), at the Mulhouse Biennial of Photography (France, 2018), at the Rencontres internationales de la photographie en Gaspésie (Canada, 2017), at Candela Gallery (USA, 2015), at Voies-Off in Arles (France, 2013), and at the Cleveland Museum of Art (USA, 2012). In March 2018, he published “Le Roc d’Ercé / Prologue” with Paris-Brest Publishing, highly recommended by Le Bal Books. Thomas is also working as a freelance photographer and photo researcher, and a co-founder of the Photobook Club Of Montreal.

They called it le Roc d’Ercé.

To make this project, I followed in the footsteps of my ancestors, exploring this unique and familiar story of immigration between New York and Ercé, from the end of the 19th century to today. As an expatriate myself, I sought to trace this history by creating parallels between these two cities through the prism of my own experience.

My approach takes the form of ambiguity and metaphor, based on patterns that are repeated and articulated in the images and throughout the series. By changing scales and perspectives, here I mix temporalities and geographies, transforming Manhattan skyscrapers in the Pyrenean mountain chain, or the wooden walking cane of my grandfather in what could have been the stick of a bear leader.

Thus, I became interested in the different paths that each of us chooses to follow. In a French restaurant in New York, I found the same objects that adorned the living room of my grandparents in France. On the back of my cousin, the tattoo of a tree reveals its branches and roots, reminiscent of another tree on Ellis Island, this famous entry point for immigrants from all around the world looking for a better future in America in the 19th century.

In this sense, this work is a quest for motivation to leave or stay, and to understand what drove my ancestors and myself to go beyond these mountains to see what was there.

This project includes a series of black and white photographs taken between 2014 and 2016 between the cities of Ercé and New York. Some of his images are re-appropriations of objects collected throughout the creative process. One of them is the magnified reproduction of a stereoscopic card which is presented on the wall as a classic print, with the possibility to use a stereoscope viewer and to experiment this image as it was possible in the 19th century. This exhibition project also includes a positive photograph on a glass plate dating from 1900 and presented in a light box.

By a series of geographical, temporal and historical echoes, I aim to revive a part of this history, gather distant times and places together and highlight how memory remains in our imagination.

Le Roc d'Ercé Exhibition

Le Roc d’Ercé is the photographic evocation of an immigration history, both collective and personal, between the village of Ercé (France) and New York, since the late nineteenth century. This project brings distant times and places together, to highlight how the memory of one remains in the imagination of the other.

Ercé was the historic capital of the Pyrenean bear leaders. These men were gathering cubs in the mountains that they trained to make street performances. Dozens of them immigrated to New York accompanied by their animals, hoping to make fortune with their shows. In the valley, they were called the Americans.

Early twentieth century, echoes of these Americans’ successes led to a new wave of emigration. Many people from Ercé decided to exile in New York to work in French restaurants that were becoming more and more numerous.

Among them was my great-great-grandmother. She left her valley, family and children to work as a maid in New York during a couple of years to pay back the farm they had just bought. A few years later, she eventually returned to Ercé and the farm still belongs to the family.

In the heart of Manhattan, immigrants from Ercé used to meet at a rock every Sunday to help each other and share news from their village.

To view more of Thomas Bouquin’s work please visit his website.