David Bircher’s portraits of Quebec City

Photo: Shirley Nadeau

David Bircher proudly displays his book Québec Portrait, A photographic monograph, which is now available at the Musée des Beaux-arts du Québec boutique.

David Bircher has published his first book, Québec Portrait, A photographic monograph, which shows the changing face of Quebec City between 1965 and 1980.

The large-format bilingual book contains 42 high-quality black-and-white photos, some with hints of colour. The cover photo of a family enjoying an afternoon on the Plains of Abraham, is particularly touching. Other photos depict scenes of everyday life in the Quebec City area.

"The idea of a book started when I was into retirement; I had all these pictures and I didn't have any organization to them. What could I do with them?" Bircher asked himself. "The idea of getting them framed with the hopes of having them shown in a gallery was expensive." Bircher went for advice to André Kedl, son of the late photographer Eugen Kedl, and this book is the result.

David Bircher has "performed" both photography and music for more than half a century. As a career French-horn player in the Orchestre symphonique de Québec, he practised a parallel vocation in photography. Bircher explained, "Art photography not only provided me with an outlet for visual communication but served to counterbalance the rigours of the physical and transitory nature of performing music."

Bircher has used cameras of all formats, from those that use 35-mm film to one that used 8 x 10" film plates. He explained, "That camera is very heavy, it has to be on a tripod. You have to know what the light is like, what you're going to do, before you haul all that equipment out. But I was looking for quality. Some of the photos in the book are 35-mm shots, but most of the photos I took with a Hasselblad camera, which uses a 2¼-inch square negative."

Traditional monochrome images using historical processes became Bircher's preferred medium. He has mounted several solo exhibitions in Quebec and has exhibited throughout Newfoundland. In 2005 he was selected to participate in the first International Biennale for Contemporary Art, in Arad, Romania.

Born in Wisconsin, Bircher grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in the "corn belt" of the United States. He studied French horn at Indiana University. After coming to Quebec City to play with the OSQ, he also got a job at Université Laval teaching teachers of instrumental music in high schools, and, at the same time, obtained a Doctorate in Musical Education. He also conducted the Harmony Orchestra at the university for 18 years. From 1965 to 1997, he had a dual career - teaching teachers of music and playing French horn with the OSQ. Since retiring from Laval in 2002, he has dedicated most of his free time to photography.

However, when he decided to take up photography seriously again, he discovered it was no longer possible to purchase film from "the great yellow father," Eastman Kodak. The company left in the lurch thousands of artistic photographers who had been using older cameras, when it stopped making the products necessary to develop photographs. Everyone had switched to digital cameras.

In 2003, his wife gave him a pocket-sized digital camera which he found amazing. He trained himself to use it properly and purchased a digital printer with 10 different archival-quality pigmented inks to produce quality full-colour photos on art paper. "That change made me feel really good because I love working with art paper," said Bircher.

His love of photography can be clearly seen in this excellent book. The privately printed book is now on sale at the boutique of the Musée national des Beaux-arts du Québec.