Local Knowledge – Review of “Paradis Limoilou” by Pascal Clément

One of the things you hear often from good photographers is how long they spend with a subject. Instead of the cliched parachute-in, rocket-out style of reporting, they embed themselves for weeks, months, years, a lifetime. Length of time, in a place or with a community leads to what, for lack of a better term, we can call local knowledge.

“Paradis Limoilou” by Pascal Clément
Self-published, 2024
review by W. Scott Olsen

While local knowledge does not directly affect the technical aspects of photography, it has everything to do with what to put in a composition. Local knowledge is a way of learning what’s valuable, what’s resonant, and whatever actually speaks to deep core themes and values.

It’s easy to drop into a community and take a picture of something dramatic. It’s much more difficult, and generally more rewarding, to spend time and learn the subtleties and nuances that make the daily news resonate. If you know the history of a tree, a building, a playground, or a riverfront, your eye begins to understand what elements will express that understanding. As a photographer you understand what may appear ordinary or mundane at first is in fact holding stories essential.

© Pascal Clément

Photographers are sometimes jaded, sometimes ironic, oftentimes political, sometimes angry, and yet we should not forget that photographers are also often acting out of deep appreciation and respect.

Pascal Clément has lived in his town, Cité-Limoilou, Quebec, for a long time. A well-known volleyball coach, he has turned his retirement time and passions toward photography. And if his new book, Paradis Limoilou, is evidence, it is clear Clément loves his town.

As he writes on the book’s acknowledgment page,

“It’s crazy to think that for more than 15 years, I have walked no less than 40,000 km and taken more than 50 million steps in the streets, parks, and even the alleys of this area that we love so much. And, of course, my four-legged companions, Baba and Charlot, were my faithful sidekicks during all these walks.… By holding this book in your hands, you hold a piece of my heart, a piece of my soul, and above all, a part of this neighborhood which has become more than just a place for me, rather a little Paradise.”

Here is my town. Here’s the feeling I have about my town. I hope you see what I see.

© Pascal Clément

In his foreword, Clément writes,

“After spending 35 years coaching volleyball teams, including 28 seasons with the Rouge et Or of Laval University, I decided to devote my retirement to my passion for photography. It’s a way for me to continue to learn, to create, and also to capture the beauty of what surrounds me. This book is the result of this renewed passion. I was inspired by different styles of photography and tried to capture fleeting moments, playing with light, colors and shapes. As a lover of my neighborhood, I chose to list my photos under the theme of “Paradis Limoilou”.

The book is divided into several sections. The first, la Cite-Limoilou, is a collection of exteriors. There are shadows of fire escapes, porches, apartment buildings, street corners, windows, and facades. Some of the images are long shots, while others are details. They range over all four seasons of the year and a great many of them are subtle and yet revealing of the neighborhood’s character.

© Pascal Clément

The second section, la faune de Paradis, is about the animals. There are images of herons, owls, squirrels, ducks, and songbirds. None of the animals are exotic, and yet they are the kind of animals that define the place. The third section, la flore du Paradis, is about flowers. And again, Clément turns a loving eye to what grows locally. The final section, les paysages du Paradis, is a series of landscape shots. There are no mountain-scapes or terrifying desserts. But there is a quiet celebration of what is typical and thus defining there.

Throughout every section, Clément’s work is realistic color. Nothing is over-saturated or forced.  And while he sometimes does make use of bokeh in his flower shots, the majority of the images are (or seem to be) exactly what you would see if you were standing next to him when he pressed the shutter release.

© Pascal Clément

Knowing where to look, in winter as well as spring, summer and fall, makes all the difference.

The book includes other small bits of text, such as song lyrics by Sylvain Lelièvre, a singer-songwriter and poet from Quebec who lived his childhood in the Limoilou district, as well as a bit of cultural/local history with an explication of how the image of a wolf found its way into local sculpture and collective imagination.

And sometimes Clément takes a step away from photography to offer a bit of philosophy.  For example, he writes,

“The great blue heron – St-Charles River Linear Park – Sometimes, in this vast ballet of life, we find ourselves juggling balance, sometimes on one leg. Challenges, setbacks, and turmoil force us to find our stability. It is in these moments of uncertainty that we look for the light, a glimmer of hope hidden behind us. So, in these moments when we are only standing on one leg and where balance seems precarious, we discover that the light we are looking for is perhaps not so far away. It resides within us, in our capacity to learn, to grow, and to embrace the tumultuous journey of life. And perhaps, as we move forward with resilience, we realize that this light behind us is there to illuminate our path.”

© Pascal Clément

Photographers will sometimes make the claim that every image is in some part an autobiography, a personal expression of value and temperament. So I was struck when I read Régis Labeaume, Former mayor of Quebec City, who offers an interesting observation in his brief preface. He writes, “It would be a poor understanding of Pascal Clément to believe that he will leave us in the dark about this environment that he inhabits and cherishes.”

Pascal Clément’s Paradis Limoilou is a remarkable book filled with love for his neighborhood and an eye for resonant detail. Whether he is looking at the streets, the way light plays with architecture, or the owls and herons and squirrels and ducks, or the flowers and plants, Clément’s work is filled with joy and appreciation. In pronounced but not overwrought color, he illuminates the tone and character and mood of Cité-Limoilou. There is deep art on every page, and every image is an invitation to linger happily.

© Pascal Clément

A note from FRAMES: Please let us know if you have an upcoming or recently published photography book.

Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation. Learn more >>>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *