Smack dab in Montreal’s bustling downtown core, the McCord Stewart Museum has been quietly producing some of Canada’s most insightful shows centred on creativity within the fashion and visual art realms—and this summer is no exception. Its first exhibition this season, Norman Parkinson: Always in Style (April 19 to September 2), allows viewers to delve deep into fashion history through the lens of the famed British photographer. The show, which has travelled to the National Portrait Gallery in London, England, and the Centro Cultural de Cascais in Portugal, pays homage to the 20th-century foundational-image maker, whose influence can quite literally be seen in every fashion magazine today. Parkinson was one of the first photographers to liven up the stiff studio-based presentation of fashion models and have them pose more naturally; his innovation allowed for more spontaneity and movement of the body, with models being placed in unique exterior locations and shot with his signature brilliant sense of whimsy.

Parkinson was active from the 1930s through to the 1980s. He had long working relationships with many of the top publications of the day, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country, and became the official photographer of the British Royal Family. The collection on view includes 79 of his most iconic images (including some newly discovered works) presented alongside era-specific clothing from the museum’s archive that resemble items worn in the pictures, such as pieces by British designers Hardy Amies and Digby Morton and hats by Quebecers Fanny Graddon and Yvette Brillon.



The very complementary second exhibition, Portraits and Fashion: Quebec Photographers Beyond Borders (May 31 to September 29), is a group show featuring the work of 17 talented photographers who developed their image-capturing skills in Quebec and made an impact internationally on fashion and commercial photography, such as Max Abadian, Sacha Cohen, Andréanne Gauthier and Norman Jean Roy. Visually inspiring fashion spreads are displayed alongside captivating portraits of famous musicians and noteworthy faces like Céline Dion, Nelson Mandela, Adele and Charlotte Cardin. Audiovisual clips produced for the show by creative agency Rodéo FX make it a more immersive experience, allowing each photo and its context to fully envelop the senses. Curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot, who previously produced two of Montreal’s most successful exhibitions at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk in 2011 and Thierry Mugler: Couturissime in 2019), the show highlights Quebec’s importance as a creative breeding ground. “There are many words you could use to describe the work of these 17 artists, portraitists and fashion photographers,” says Loriot in the press release. “But they all have one thing in common: Quebec. Whether they’re from Tunisia or Iran, the Laurentians or Montérégie.”

Montreal’s thriving fashion industry and many print magazines make it an ideal place to get valuable real-world experience, and all 17 photographers have distinct voices that are echoing successfully across the globe. Among them is Tunisian-born, Montreal-based Oumayma Ben Tanfous, who sees the camera as a “collection” tool that allows her to document images that move her. “My colour palette and my lighting are very soft, and my portraits are focused on rendering the subject,” she says. A talented portraitist who captures the inner light of an individual while expressing the strength of femininity, Ben Tanfous has worked for the likes of Vogue, Dazed and Le Monde and was recently included in the highly regarded British Journal of Photography’s annual “Ones to Watch” issue. Royal Gilbert, who’s originally from the Beauce region of Quebec and now based in Paris, grew up in rural Quebec casting his siblings and cousins in his photography and films. This creative play became the foundation for a successful career working with iconic musical artists and magazine institutions like ELLE and Vogue. And one of Quebec’s most accomplished portrait photographers is Quebec City-born Monic Richard, whose portfolio is a historical record of notable Quebecers, from politicians to entertainers. Richard’s sensitive approach allows her to freeze the intimate exchange between herself and her subjects, which have included Leonard Cohen, Guy Laliberté and contemporary dancer Louise Lecavalier.