Help-Portrait Lac-Mégantic – The Power of a Photograph

ImageJuly 6th, 2013 will forever be known as the date that changed the quiet town of Lac-Mégantic. The loss of forty-seven lives in a senseless and avoidable tragedy is not something that should happen. As people slept, worked, hung out with friends, an unmanned 74-car freight-train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled down hill out of control from Nantes, and entered the heart of Lac-Mégantic at over 100 km/h. As the train entered a right-hand curve designed for speeds of no more than 16 km/h, physics took over.  One cannot imagine the hellish scene of rivers of fire flowing through the town; as the fire burned for close to 48 hours, 30 buildings were destroyed, 115 businesses were lost, but the only statistic that matters is the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and coworkers who lost their lives.

ImageHelp-Portrait ( is a collective day of giving. One day every year, photographers, hair stylists and make-up artists assemble in locations around the world with the goal of giving photographs, absolutely free. There is no set cause, it is up to the organizer to determine where they would like to hold the event and whom they would like to invite. It is in this spirit that we decided to hold our Help-Portrait event in Lac-Mégantic.

ImageTo say that the Help-Portrait Lac-Mégantic photo team has talent is an understatement, from fashion to advertising, photojournalists to portraitists, concert photographers to sports shooters, we had the full spectrum.

David Curleigh, Francis Vachon, Cindy Hains, Pierre Bourgault, Tom DiSandolo, Chris MacKenzie, I owe you all an enormous debt of gratitude.

Our volunteers, Adam, Danielle, Johanne, Marcel and Renée, thank you from all of us for keeping the day on track! We could not have run so smoothly without your tireless help.

Our goal was complex in its simplicity. Drive to Lac-Mégantic from Montreal (or in the case of Francis and Cindy, Quebec City), set up some studios, and make some pictures.

Polyvalente Montignac, Lac-Mégantic’s high school, allowed us to use their gym as studio space. The school was used as emergency shelter after the tragic accident as many people were evacuated from their homes.

This afforded us with plenty of space: we were able to set up 4 studios and a printing station.

ImageAs the 4 studios rolled, Chris kept the printers going. We would like to thank Canon Canada who supplied us with the printers, paper and ink. Canon Canada also donated one USB key for each family so we could give them the entire shoot.

ImageAfter each family was photographed, they sat down with the photographer to decide which photograph they would like printed.

ImageImageImageEach family was given 30 minutes which gave the photographers plenty of time to try different poses, different groupings and play with leaf blowers (thanks Dave)

ImageImageImageImageImageThough the day was generally upbeat, people shared some very difficult stories with us. Stories of loss, of tragedy. We are very thankful that people shared their stories with us and allowed us into their lives.

We thank everyone from Lac-Mégantic for welcoming us with open arms and beaming smiles. We all had an incredible day, one that we will not soon forget.


Image4 Studios
6 Volunteers
65 Families
242 People photographed total
278 Prints given for free
4538 Photographs made

An enormous thank you to Bruno from the school who helped out tremendously, his brother Bernard for invading the school cafeteria and making us all a spaghetti lunch, and the companies who helped us out: Canon Canada, Simon Camera, Multicopie in Lac-Mégantic for the photocopies, Polyvalente Montignac for the studio space, and Fort Estrie for the amazing cottage!

I would also like to thank the private donors who helped us cover our costs!

A huge thank you from all of us! (L-R) Me (Tim), Adam, Dave, Tom, Chris, Francis, Cindy, Danielle and Pierre!

ImageAfter packing out, we made sure to go to St. Agnes Church. While we were photographing families at the school, the community had gathered to decorate 48 Christmas trees, one for each victim of the tragedy and one for a local firefighter who took his life in the aftermath.

Walking back to the car, we found ourselves standing on the curve in the rail line that catapulted the train into the heart of this Eastern Township community. Looking into the epicenter of an incredible and unspeakable disaster, you cannot help but feel the weight of the incident in your heart and in your soul.



One thought on “Help-Portrait Lac-Mégantic – The Power of a Photograph

  1. Pingback: “Beaming Smiles and Difficult Stories” – Lac-Mégantic, Quebec | Help-Portrait Worldwide » 06 DEC 2014

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