By Jean-Emmanuel Allard
At Christmas, one of the brothers-in-law often brought a video camera. And every time, Gil asked to be filmed. One year, when the brother-in-law forgot to bring the camera, Gil was really upset. It was one of the first occasions that his family saw him in such distress. Marie tried to reason with him by explaining that it wasn’t necessary for him to be filmed every time. Gil responded, “Oh, no, no! Me, I want to be in the camera!”
Based on these observations, we decided to offer Gil a professional photo session complete with lighting, a backdrop and all the necessary photo equipment.
Gil played along with great enthusiasm and concentration. He chose his own outfits and came up with different poses. He was also very attentive to the instructions we gave him about shooting angles and working within the lighted zone.
The photo shoot lasted several hours, and Gil was very present the whole time, watching us work and even helping us assemble and dismantle the mobile studio equipment.
All of this took place in the living room of Gil’s home, to make it easier for him to have access to his clothing. One of the members of L’Arche Agapé, Nora, sat quietly through the whole photo session, embroidering. Gil and Nora posed together for a souvenir photo.
Gil’s house leader at the time, Dubert, came home following an event for which he was all dressed up, so we photographed them together, too.
A year later, we produced a whole series of outdoor photos with this same duo, Gil and Dubert, for an advertisement in a magazine. We’ll publish a clip on that series soon.
Back at the photo shoot, something special happened at the end, once we had already taken apart the lighting system and put away the cameras.
All that was left was the big roll of white paper that we had used as a backdrop. We were just about to roll it back up with Gil’s help, when suddenly he stopped, as if he was looking for something. Then slowly, he leaned over, got down on his knees and placed both hands on the area of the back drop that was spread out across the floor. We waited, trying to understand what he was trying to say. He stopped moving, completely focused on the expanse of white paper underneath his hands, as if nothing else existed.
When we asked what was happening, he slowly lifted his head and his eyes were filled with tears. “This not leave… stay here, always.” With few words he made us understand that he didn’t want the backdrop to be put away; he wanted it to stay in place.
It was clear that this photo session was important for Gil, that he realized that this privileged moment was about to end. By trying to hold down the blank white paper that had served as a stage where he could express himself, Gil was telling us how important this space was to him – a place where he could be in the spotlight in the lead role.
We all need this positive regard, especially people who have been marginalized by society.
Thank you, Gil, for reminding us!
Project initiator: Gil Frois
Filming: Voices and Colors New Media
Production: Jean Vanier Association
Web series adaptation: L’Arche Canada
Filming and dissemination partners: L’Arche Agapè and Association des Arches du Québec
Percussion: Kéman Seck