Yoanis Menge, HAKAPIK – Mona Hakim, Countering the Negative Image

[Fall 2016]
Yoanis Menge,
Terre-Neuve (détail/detail), 2014, de la série / from the series HAKAPIK, épreuve argentique / gelatin silver print, 60 × 163 cm

Yoanis Menge,
Terre-Neuve (détail/detail), 2014, de la série / from the series HAKAPIK, épreuve argentique / gelatin silver print, 60 × 163 cm

par Mona Hakim

HAKAPIK did not go unnoticed during its presentation at Occurrence.1 The subject was an attention-grabber: a report on the seal hunt by Yoanis Menge, a photographer from Îles de la Madeleine who totally immersed himself in the lives of groups of hunters off the coast of the Canadian North. There was no resemblance here to the usual conspicuous and corrosive reporting of this controversial subject. The exhibition, with its forty large-format black-and-white photographs, panoramic views, and figures in action, approached the daily life of these isolated communities from a peaceable, enlightened point of view. Laid out generously on the walls of the gallery, these photographs are gripping and moving.

Menge was initiated into the documentary school as an intern at the Magnum agency, under the wing of Josef Koudelka and Bruno Barbey. It seems that he sees photography as an important social tool. HAKAPIK is not his first report, despite his relatively young age: he had already photographed in El Salvador and Mali. He then felt the need to return to Îles de la Madeleine and become involved in the hunt, intending to counter the negative and erroneous image conveyed by the constantly expanding anti-hunt lobby.

By looking at the hunt from the inside – on board fishing boats, side by side with crew members and following their customary activities as closely as possible – Menge, with a sympathetic and respectful gaze, gave a distinctive inflection to the project. It was a sizeable challenge for him, as he had to deal with the double position of hunter and picture taker in the field. Seas – both calm and rough – pack ice, boats, harpooned seals, hunting tools, but also shacks, dining tables, and omnipresent portraits – individual and group – formed the backdrop to what became a personal journal. Thus, the hanging of the photographs by group and by superimposition pointedly avoids an overwhelming effect by forming a homogeneous corpus within which each image, like each combination, dialogues with another, leading us through the sequences of events.

Photographic techniques also play a fundamental role in this regard. Menge channels his subjects in tight framings, close-up views, high angles, and wide shots that reduce the depth of field and deliberately take the viewer into the heart of the action. Similarly, sky and sea tend to meld together, and the horizon lines, barely perceptible, tip as the boats heel over in the waves. Backlighting, high contrast, and sustained chiaroscuro are added to the enveloping sense of the scenes, and the effect is enhanced by the black-and-white prints. The exclusion of colour, like the other techniques, draws the eye to the people’s expressions, the intensity of their gestures, and the texture of their environment buttressed by the contrasting light…

1 March 17 to April 23, 2016, at Occurrence, espace d’art et d’essai contemporains, in Montreal.

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