David Champagne is a photographer who lives and works in Maisonnette, New Brunswick. Working mostly in the field of documentary photography, he is fascinated by human beings, their behaviours, and their lifestyles. He uses photography in a sociological way, as a testimony of contemporary time. His work explores notions of territory and how man alters and modifies its immediate environment. He also works with photomontage, where he diverts and transforms photographs from his documentaries, to deliver images with surreal, humourous and whistleblower content.
Over the years he has collaborated with several magazines and newspapers, as many local as international. In 2013, he published L’ostie de printemps, the first self-published photographic essay on the social crisis that marked Quebec’s province in the spring of 2012. In 2015, he obtained a grant from the Quebec Arts Council and the TV5 Fund, with which it has co-directed the documentary web series Seasonal Life. In 2018, he received his first grant from the New Brunswick Arts Board and from the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture.
So what led you to embark on a career in the arts? Is there any particular moment you can point to that spurred your interest in photography?
Well, I was living in the province of Quebec at the time where they have something called CEGEP. It’s a step you need to take between high school and university that doesn’t exist in New Brunswick. When I first arrived at CEGEP, I had no idea what direction I wanted to take with my career, so I took a very general program that everyone who has no idea what they want to do takes. I also took a course in photography at the same time that was separate from the main program, and it’s this course that really piques my interest. At the time, it was still a course about taking photos and developing film, and I really enjoyed all that. From there, I took a college course in photography, and the rest is history. I basically had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and when I found photography, things just clicked for me, without me ever really thinking that I would make a career out of it.
Why do you think, out of all the various artistic disciplines, that photography is the one that really drew you in?
Photography is quite different from many other forms of art in that it is very creative, but there is also a documentation aspect to it that I really enjoy. It’s less creative in that you take a subject and want to showcase it as it is without too much flair, but then you get to the montage portion of the projects that I do where I try to create images from a bunch of my photos. That’s where I find all the creativity comes in, and I really enjoy that part of the process. Still, I’m not sure I would like it nearly as much without the documentation style photography since that’s also a part of the process that I really enjoy.
To talk a bit about the residence, can you describe the project you worked on in residence?
Well, the one aspect of my project that I worked on in Saint John was the actual photography portion of it. While in the city, almost all I did was walk around and take photos of architecture, industrial sites, a lot of portraits too, all to build a bank of pictures that I can use when I create two large photo montages this fall. I didn’t want to spend any of my two weeks in the city starting to work on the montage when I knew I needed it all to take the pictures.
By taking all these pictures, are you trying to represent the story or the people of Saint John?
Not really no, I’m not looking to represent Saint John in any particular way. People will definitely recognize Saint John in my pictures due to its distinct architecture, but what I want to create are two images showcasing an ambience that represents the year 2020. I don’t need to tell you that 2020 feels slightly different from other years, a troubled year, if you will, so I want to use the photos I took to represent this strange atmosphere we’ve all been experiencing this year. The pictures will be of real things, but the montage itself will come from my imagination, kind of like how a painter tries to convey a feeling with an ambient painting. This effect is something I try to achieve with a lot of my montages.
The residence you’ve just done is unique in that it puts you in a space with artists that have very different life experiences and approaches to art than your own. Have these interactions affected this project of yours or, at the very least, broadened your perspective on other cultures?
Yes, I’d say the residence has affected both of those things. The three of us got along really well despite having never met before. Because of this, we were able to have many interesting exchanges that will definitely impact how I assemble my montage. We’re also trying to display all three of our works as a whole rather than independent projects. I’m not sure we’ll succeed, given that what we do is very different from one another, but we really want to try to work together to create the final exhibition. I’m definitely the odd one out in the group since everything wasn’t happening in my native language, and I often have a hard time explaining my ideas clearly when conversations get complicated. But we all still managed, and the others were very accommodating of me.
When will people be able to see your finished project on display?
Probably in January, depending on how things work out with the Saint John Arts Centre. Nothing is certain yet, but the hope is to display it in then.
Lastly, what’s your next project that you want to work on? Or, if you haven’t thought about it yet, is there a project you’ve wanted to work on for a while but haven’t been able to yet?
There is a project I’ve been trying to do for a little while now. The project’s theme is the contradictions of society, and I’ve tentatively named it Un Pay Parfait (A Perfect Country). The photos’ content will explore the many contradictions present in our society, exploring the environment, racism, and many more issues. I only really have the idea for now, but I’d like to work on it in the future since it explores things that greatly affect me and the world around me.