July 7th, 2014, he starts the recorder. “One year after your death, the pain remains just as strong”, begins Louise. The previous year, Louise’s daughter, Andrée-Anne, who was working at the Musi-Café, was the first person reported missing after a train transporting nearly 8 million litres of shale oil exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic. 47 people were killed instantly, making it Canada’s deadliest train disaster in almost 150 years. The explosion levelled most of the town centre, creating a 400-metre-wide area that is still inaccessible. Huneault’s project documents the aftermath of the catastrophe and is a meditation on loss and mourning. Michel Huneault arrived in Lac-Mégantic for the first time twenty hours after the explosion. He would continue visiting the community during the following year photographing inside and outside the damaged area, renamed the red zone. In total, he spent 70 days in the community, over 14 visits, and he will keep going there often the coming years. The impressions gathered through research and through intimate discussions with locals loomed over him while he was documenting the calm eeriness of the town, where everything had changed one fateful night at 1:15 am. Through the seasons and aftershocks, Huneault became close friends with many Méganticois, sharing the lonely ebb and flow of their emotions: pain, anger, hopes for healing and peace of mind. Their complicity soon echoed throughout the work, which became an active fragment of an evolving collective memory. One out of every 128 citizens of Lac-Mégantic died on July 6th, 2013. As time passed, he tried to comprehend what such a constellation of traumas and mournings means. Having worked in other post-catastrophe situations, he was interested in how the community handled the emotional burden while dealing with the more pragmatic imperatives of recovery: arranging funerals when victims’ identification takes months, battles surrounding the reconstruction (and demolition) of the historical downtown, domino expropriations affecting even more lives, the control of information, the absence of answers, the fear of unknown, the contamination and its legacy, the constant and numbing murmur of it all. Huneault believes that grasping and representing this complex atmosphere is the key to understanding the full depth of the incident in order to be able to formulate relevant solutions to move forward. This sober and lyrical documentary narrative about life, death, the fragility of existence, is a requiem to the victims. He hopes the book creates a visceral sense of empathy, an appreciation based on introspection, imagination, and compassion. Huneault will keep going back, hopefully to find more light and healing but also up the train track toward North Dakota, to where this oil and darkness originated. Today, although Mégantic’s centre remains flattened and contaminated while the criminal investigation continues, the tracks were the first thing to be rebuilt and train traffic has resumed. While no oil is transiting here, it is passing through other North American towns every day… Before devoting himself full time to documentary photography in 2008, Michel Huneault worked for over ten years in the international development and humanitarian field, a profession that took him to over twenty countries, including one full year spent in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Michel holds a MA in Latin American Studies from UC Berkeley, researching on the role of collective memory in large-scale traumatic recovery. At Berkeley, he was a student and assistant of Magnum photographer Gilles Peress, and afterwards held an apprenticeship position with him in New York. Currently, his practice focuses on development and humanitarian related issues, on personal and collective traumas, and on complex geographies. His body of work, often mixing photography with audio/video elements, includes work created in Canada (Lac-Mégantic), Japan (Tohoku), Haiti (Port-au-Prince) and across Europe during the 2015 migratory crisis. His work has been shown in various venues in Canada, France, UK, USA and the Netherlands. Michel is a regular grantee of the Quebec and Canada Arts Council, and he won in 2015 the prestigious Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize for his long-term work on Lac-Mégantic.