Le Collectif photo – le Rapprochement is a visual-arts exhibit currently being exposed in Montreal North. It is the brainchild of Suzanne Bourdon, a Communications graduate from the Université du Québec à Montréal with a passion for photography. The idea for the exhibit was conceived in 2002 when Bourdon traveled to James Bay for work. After spending time in the north, she returned to Montreal inspired by her experiences and determined to find a way of creating a dialogue between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. On her return, Bourdon combined her background in communications, her talent as photographer and her dedication to social causes to create this exhibit with the intention of achieving this goal.

Not long after conceiving this project, Bourdon discovered other photographers who shared a similar vision. Along with photographers Iva Zimova, Romain Briard, Paul Brindamour and Robert Fréchette, Bourdon formed Le Collectif photo – le Rapprochement. These five captured images for the exhibit that they hope will not only open dialogue, but will also help dispel myths and stereotypes about First Nations People.

All of these photographers have spent time in various First Nations communities, where they have lived, worked, eaten and celebrated with Aboriginal people and consequently, have a better understanding of life in First Nations communities, even as outsiders, for having done so. It’s as though they all, in some way, feel that you couldn’t share a story without experiencing it firsthand. On her website, Zimova states, “I like to stay with the people of the region I am visiting; live with them, eat with them, work with them. I just can’t jump into their lives, take the photos and leave. I must become comfortable with them – I need to be accepted by the community or by the family I stay with. Then I can take the pictures.”

The collective’s current exhibit is in the Aire Libre space at the Librairie Monet in Montreal. Upon entering the gallery, it is clear that this is a project maintained by passion and respect. The relatively small space has been lovingly designed, with an emphasis on the photographs, but a clear importance has been placed on other objets d’arts that Bourdon has collected to compliment the exhibit, including tamarack goose decoys made by the Cree Nation Arts and Crafts Association.

The photographs are as beautiful as the objective of this project. They are almost exclusively black-and-white and shot on film. Most capture moments in the day-to-day lives of people from various First Nations communities in Quebec. They depict children, men, women and artists, usually smiling, playing or working on their craft. A particularly striking image, a donation from award-winning photographer Gabor Szilasi, shows an older woman sitting on a chair in a sparsely furnished room, with a mysterious smile on her face. Appropriately titled, Amérindienne chez elle, the photo was taken in Mistissini in 1977. The image builds curiosity within the viewer and makes you wonder, about the subject’s life, and maybe even of the similarities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal lifestyles, which was Bourdon’s intention when assembling the exhibit.

Several of the images engage viewers in this way. The dynamic shots, full of life and energy, allow viewers to feel like they are present in the moment that has been captured. Even the still photographs, like Bourdon’s image of a pair of hands cradling a basket, evoke a desire to know more. Luckily, she is often present at the exhibit to answer questions and share her experiences. The images, of course, could stand alone in telling stories, but a trip to the gallery seems all the more complete with this type of exchange, especially given that the goal of the project is to do just that, create a dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

Using photography as a tool to engage the public in an attempt to open dialogue or create social change, however, is not easy. In the case of this exhibit, it seems fair to say that Bourdon is on the path to success. Since its debut in 2008, the exhibition has been shown in several galleries throughout Quebec, but Bourdon hopes to extend this to the other provinces as well. Currently she is in negotiation to have the exhibit travel to a gallery in Alberta, to begin that process. If she succeeds in Alberta, Bourdon hopes that the exhibit will grow, and that its images will help inspire other photographers to join the cause and share their positive perspective of First Nations People from their communities.

The exhibition runs to March 27 at the Librairie Monet, 2752 de Salaberry, Montreal, 514-337-4083, www.librairiemonet.com

The next chapter of the exhibit can be viewed at the First Nations Garden in the Montreal Botanical Garden from April 15 to October 31.

For more info on the collective: www.collectiflerapprochement.com