Critics’ Picks

Benoit Aquin, Exclusion Zone, 2013, ink-jet print, 41 x 60".

Benoit Aquin, Exclusion Zone, 2013, ink-jet print, 41 x 60".


Benoit Aquin

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
1380, rue Sherbrooke Ouest
February 18–May 24, 2015

On the evening of July 5, 2013, a freight train carrying two million gallons of crude oil escaped from its overnight resting station, and after traveling unguided for seven miles, it derailed at the town center of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec. Forty-seven locals, some sleeping comfortably, unaware in their homes, tragically lost their lives in what would become the deadliest non-passenger train derailment in Canadian history.

That same night, photographer Benoit Aquin traveled to the site and began documenting the aftermath. Despite the ensuing chaos, his pictures, which are now on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, show a perspective that’s pensive and reserved—an approach that avoids the shock-and-awe orthodoxy of contemporary photojournalism and instead taps into the deeper psychosomatic impact felt upon observing the damaged community of Lac-Mégantic.

Photographs such as Exclusion Zone, 2013, do this powerfully: the camera’s harsh flash exposes evidence of the catastrophe—a hastily assembled fence that was erected to separate civilians from the disaster site. Or in Rebuilding Track, 2013, where that same piercing flash cuts through the darkness to illuminate thousands of falling snowflakes and two neon-clad rail workers. In the museum’s gallery space, the pictures are hung frame to frame in a single unadulterated row, as if to mimic the formation of aligned rail cars. And with each passing car, a new article of evidence is revealed to the viewer, like disparate scenes of an ongoing nightmare from which you cannot wake.