Percé has always exerted a strong pull on artists. Artists and their work helped promote the region to generations of travellers long before photography. Canada’s early landscape painters often made the trek east to discover the Gaspé region. Soon after the Intercolonial Railway inaugurated regular service, artist Lucius O’Brien was among the first landscape painters to visit. Others followed, like Philadelphia painter Frederic James, who built a villa in Percé in 1886, the large windows in his studio embracing the light. The villa James is still perched precariously overlooking the Rocher Percé, testimony to this artist’s love of the landscape and its wild beauty.
In the 20th century, the Gaspé attracted a new generation of artists – photographers, painters and thinkers. New York photographer Paul Strand was captivated by the haunting poverty of the villages. His friend Georgia O’Keeffe painted the simple white barns. Paul-Émile Borduas and André Breton made Percé their home for intense periods of artistic creation. Their work perpetuates the memory of their time as artists in residence.
Artists and amateurs alike have found something compelling, whether it be the striking landscapes or the photogenic inhabitants. When does an amateur become an artist? Albums by tourists tell the story of the person behind the lens and document what visitors found significant and worth remembering. Tourists have left a photographic legacy of envelopes bulging with images. There is a new interest in amateur photography – the photography of everyday life that documents people and places.
With its photogenic landscapes, the Gaspésie is one of the most photographed destinations in Quebec