A tribute to Conrad Poirier, a pioneer of photojournalism in Quebec

Hommage à Conrad Poirier, pionnier du photojournalisme au Québec

Photo: BANQ Vieux-Montréal, Fonds Conrad Poirier
Self-portrait of the photographer Conrad Poirier in 1939

The thousands of photos of Conrad Poirier (1912-1968) belong, since the beginning of the year, in the public domain. Now they can be freely reproduced. It is on this occasion as we wanted to, on the side of the University of Montreal, a tribute to this pioneer of photojournalism in Canada through an exhibition.

Although our vision of the past is often associated with what has caught his eye, one truly knows very few things about Conrad Poirier.

Very active especially in the 1930s and 1940s, this solitary advert, from the comfort of his home, as a photographer. He accepts contracts, publishes a lot in magazines and newspapers. He sells his photos to various prints, some among the most important of the era : The Saturday, The popular Magazine, The Gazette, The Montrealer, The Fatherland, Photo-Journal, The News… Until his death, in 1968, it occupies a pretty house of his childhood, situated a little back from a quiet street to the west of the island of Montreal.

Hat soft, shirt and a tie more or less well-adjusted physics a little wrapped up, and Poirier walks the streets of Montreal and watching for the moment that, at the time of trigger, will make his joy. He is also happy photographer orders. Public services are asked to illustrate the campaigns, for example to promote the recycling of raw materials in time of war. His neighbour, of which nothing is known, it will be photographed more than 500 times, explains the Duty Florian Daveau Library and national Archives of Quebec.


Hommage à Conrad Poirier, pionnier du photojournalisme au Québec

Photo: BANQ Vieux-Montréal, fonds Conrad Poirier
The day of victory in the rue Sainte-Catherine, on may 7, 1945

A collector at heart, Poirier look at pictures of other photographers, collect magazine pages, collects newspaper clippings in albums, accumulating discs and, above all, a passion for the american cinema. In the attic, in the home, he has installed a kind of ciné-club private.

His photographs are arranged by theme and numbered in albums, which shows the seriousness of its commitment. All his notes are written in English. And so it is only in English that this modest exhibition is merely to present some of his photographs, without offering to compensate for context-setting or appreciation of the value of this personal work of great importance today collectivisée.

His images, often of very high quality, offer a mirror to the social reality of an era. In 1945, with the announcement of the end of the war, it framework, rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal, a young woman all smiles that surround police officers. At the centre of this iconic image, a woman stands in profile, a pair of round glasses on the nose. It holds a copy of the magazine The Eye, one of the many printed montreal who welcome the work of photographers, including almost all the archives have often been thrown by the inconsistency of some of their heirs.


How does it, in the manner of Conrad Poirier, a photographer in the period between the two wars ? His father, Arthur, died in 1920. The manager of the magazine On Saturday, this father is also the nephew of Ferdinand Poirier, who, in Poirier, Bessette Cie, and manages a other magazine of general circulation, The popular Magazine. Is it him or a namesake who, at this time, owns race horses of great price ? Let’s say in any case that the context of the family lends itself to the development of one of our first big press photographers.

The mechanical reproduction of images then appears as a real industry. And the eye of Conrad Poirier is found at the height of modernity highlighted by the multitude of magazines, here and abroad, who take advantage of a craze that is very important to the image.


Hommage à Conrad Poirier, pionnier du photojournalisme au Québec

Photo: BANQ Vieux-Montréal, fonds Conrad Poirier
Charles Trenet gives a tour of singing in a rodeo at the stade De Lorimier, July 24, 1946.

Conrad Poirier often uses a device Speed Graphic, whose large negatives provide exceptional, provided, of course, to be gifted. What it is. It also uses instruments that are lighter, such as the device of the German Exacta, which will enable him for example to capture on the sly to poor people pushing their few belongings at the time of moving in the spring.

Photos you’ve seen posted here and there in the Montreal of the 1930s and 1940s, the chances are great that it works for Conrad Poirier. It is everywhere. He bites, street scenes, work, sporting events, demonstrations, portraits of personalities, some even naked, according to the aesthetic canons of the pin-up. But of all this, this exhibition is full of promise does not say, alas, almost nothing.

Education and information

According to one of the commissioners of the exhibition, professor Marie Martel of the School of library and information science (completed her masters), it was first and foremost to illustrate, through the work of Poirier, the treasure that represent the documents in the public domain for the purposes of education and information.

But in this case, why not have just taken advantage of the quality of the work of Poirier to inform and educate ? Not a word to explain how, in July, 1939, more than 100 couples belonging to the Jeunesse ouvrière catholique (JOC), photographed skillfully by Poirier, can be found at the Stade de Lorimier to unite their destinies. Nothing on the freshness of a Charles Trenet, who, in the same stadium, in 1946, is captured in action as he sings on the occasion of a great rodeo.


Hommage à Conrad Poirier, pionnier du photojournalisme au Québec

Photo: BANQ Vieux-Montréal, fonds Conrad Poirier
Athletics competitions at school Westmount Junior High School in may 1946

Can we know after what were these young women, mounted on their high heels over the cobblestones of the square of Weapons at the risk of losing the foot ? And when Poirier photography young André Mathieu, gaze into the distance, pressed against the flat top of his piano, as he tells us of himself through the image of one of the musicians most amazing of this country ?

Following the death of the photographer, the filmmaker Guy Side, one of the founders of the Cinémathèque québécoise, had acquired the negatives of Poirier. They were eventually transferred to the national archives. These archives include more than 22 000 images. If information about the personal lives of Conrad Poirier fell into oblivion, his photographs say it all the same a lot of the social world in which they are inscribed.

Before this work, it is now public or not, it still remains a matter to unfold the meanings contained in the images, to try to understand the social inclusion of an entire era in which these thousands of pictures demonstrate a unique way.

The treasury, above all, is located there.

Conrad Poirier photojournalist (1912-1968)

The crossroads of the arts and sciences, at the University of Montreal, pavilion Lionel-Groulx, room C-2081-2083, until 31 march.