David Giral knows Montreal as well as anybody. The architecture, travel, and portrait photographer has had a front-row seat to the Canadian city’s evolution from a “stagnant” place, as he puts it, to a mosaic of districts that have their “own identity and culture.”
I think Montreal has changed a lot more in the last five years than in the [decades] before that. It’s still very much a city in mutation. Following Expo ‘67 and the Olympics in 1976, the city became really stagnant for a long while. Montreal is slowly reinventing itself around its summer festivals, art and food scene, a more bike and public transport-friendly approach, and new constructions around the downtown area.
David’s photography work has been a mix of commissioned shoots and self-assigned projects. He recently completed an assignment for Explore Canada, a tourism site that worked with The Guardian to publish David’s work and (re)introduce Montreal to the British daily’s audience through a local’s lens.
The reaction has been great so far. Explore Canada seemed really happy with the photos.
A lot of people enjoy mural photos, [especially the one of] Jackie Robinson, who is a well-known and beloved Montréal personality. I love the light on the Jackie Robinson Mural and how it seems that Jackie is looking towards the couple walking in the bottom right of the frame.
During my assignment I walked 36 km (22.4 miles) over two days, which made for a fun workout. I love walking and find that it’s the best way to discover a city.
It’s either walking or biking, which has become an increasingly frequent activity in Canada’s second-largest city as it becomes more and more accessible. In fact, a key selling point in The Guardian’s piece centered around the ease with which a visitor can explore the budding metropolis.
In the last ten years, Montréal’s bike network has grown massively. The addition of BIXI bike-sharing network in 2009 really helped. With a network of over 500 km today, it’s really easy to travel around the city by bike. The most scenic bike path is definitely the one following the Lachine Canal.
David was tapped for the Explore Canada project for his familiarity with a place he’s called home for better than two decades. However, due to the exponential growth of Montréal, there’s always something new for David — and consequently his audience — to discover.
I’ve walked the streets of Montréal so much that I’ve been pretty much everywhere in the city. However, a city is a living organism that is constantly evolving. New murals pop up and new buildings are erected or renovated.
[Still,] I think the discovery happens more when I visit interior locations such as restaurants, bars, cafés, and museums. For instance, I spent a couple of hours at Foxy observing how dishes were made and getting a good feeling about the ambiance in the restaurant.
[Overall,] Montréal definitely stacks up as one of the top cities for eating great food. Restaurants are actually really well-priced, and there is something for everyone.
One conversation with David about Montréal’s food scene and it’s clear the man has his finger on the pulse of the city. Need a poutine spot? David’s going to give you options. In a specific part of town? David’s got you.
La Banquise is really popular [for poutine], partly because it’s open 24/7. However, my friends seem to prefer to go to Poule Mouillé or Ma’am Bolduc.
If you’re in the southwest, stop at Atwater Market and eat Singaporean food at Satay Brothers, then grab ice cream at Havre aux Glaces. After a refreshing walk on Lachine Canal, enjoy some amazing food either at [the restaurants] Joe Beef or Foxy.
During David’s location scouting for The Guardian, he walked through a district called the Mile End. An accomplished portrait photographer, David used this locale to shoot actress Brittany Drisdelle for a personal project the two friends had been planning for a time.
I picked the Mile End because it’s a vibrant neighborhood which offered a variety of interesting locations to use as a backdrop, like streets, stores, murals, alleys, railroad tracks, parks, and industrial buildings.
The pair compiled an array of shots of Brittany, many of which David — who, funnily enough, hails from Brittany, France — wanted to give off a “timeless” feel.
Three things make [this] a “classic shot” for me: the dress Brittany is wearing, the VW Beetle, and her pose, which is natural and relaxed. My thought process for this shot was pretty straightforward: This location is pretty cool. How can we play off of it? What kind of emotions does it elicit?
In this writer’s eyes, the pièce de résistance of David’s Montréal work is his Blue Hour mural photography. This time around his muse was a Montréal-born singer and wordsmith everybody knows, Leonard Cohen.
I have two favorite types of murals: colorful pop-art murals and “photorealistic” portraits. The latter adds a human and friendly element to a location that would otherwise feel cold.
The Blue Hour, as described by David, “is the later part of dusk or earlier part of dawn, when the sky turns to deep blue.” Since this beautiful setting doesn’t last long, it behooves the photographer to work efficiently to get the most desirable shots.
For this series, I started shooting at 8:40 p.m. and finished at 9:20 p.m. When shooting murals, some detail shots can be interesting but in this specific case, I found it equally as important to show the mural’s context and environment.
Viewing his work, it’s obvious that David has a deep appreciation for murals. But don’t take it from me. Let the man himself explain what makes these edificial tapestries important.
In my opinion, murals act as visual anchors in the city, give it character, and make it more vibrant. They break up the monotony of the urban landscape and act like an open-air art exhibit.
See more of David’s work on his website.