Gordon Sheppard

Writer, Photographer, Filmmaker

Archives personnelles/Personal Archives

An historian by inclination and training, I want to reflect my era through photography. As well, I believe the most effective way to convey a general idea is by referring to individual examples. So in 1986, when I decided to examine life in French-speaking Québec, I did so through Gérald Godin.

Starting out as a journalist and poet in the sixties, in the seventies Gérald went into politics and become a minister in the government of the Parti Québecois, a political party whose chief aim is the independence of the province of Québec from the rest of Canada. While I didn’t share Gérald’s political beliefs, I admired his intelligence, wit, and embrace of other cultures and languages; and felt that because of his varied career and wide-ranging humanism photographing him and his activities would offer a unique view of contemporary Québec.

It was easy to pitch the idea to Gérald: we’d been friends since 1967. He accepted with enthusiasm and over the next few years, as he contended with literary success, political change, and life-threatening cancer, I photographed the poet, the politician, and the man.

In 1992, as Gérald’s health failed, I wanted him to see the results of our collaboration before he died. So I created an exhibition in which my photographs were joined with his poetry to produce works intended for an international public. Seeking an appropriate form for these works, I settled on triptychs and retables, the earliest frames in Western art. Since Québec culture is rooted in Catholicism, I thought these forms, which were set on or around altars in mediaeval churches, would be an apt setting for the works that comprised what I called Archives personnelles/Personal archives. Also built into each frame was a reason for the public to physically touch or handle the work, my reasoning being that if you can touch a work, it’s more likely it will touch you.

First shown at the Gallery Pink in the Spring of 1992, where it received national media coverage, Archives personnelles/Personal archives was subsequently remounted in the fall of 1993 at the the Université de Montréal as part of Montréal’s Le mois de la photo.

A year later, in October 1994, Gérald Godin died of brain cancer.