MONTREAL (CITYNEWS) – A Montreal photographer is putting a spotlight on Black women in health care in a new series of portraits.
Photographer Karene Isabelle Jean-Baptiste started the project to honour women working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also contributing to the global Black Lives Matter movement.
“I want the world to know who these people are,” said Jean-Baptiste. “So in 20 years, in 30 years, they can say, ‘hey they were there.’ It felt important for me to have a record of what was happening.
“And I wanted to talk to these women because two things were happening, the pandemic and there was also Black Lives Matter, and they kind of happened together.”
Before the pandemic, Jean-Baptiste shot portraits, family photos and events. When COVID hit, she felt it was important to do something to highlight health care workers.
“I was at home, I was scared and washing my produce like everyone else,” she said. “And trying to wear a mask. But these women were out there working, sometimes away from their families.”
Two of Jean-Baptiste’s portrait subjects – Marjolaine Merisier and Johanne Casseus – changed their regular positions to help on the front lines.
Merisier, a cardiac cath lab nurse, moved to the ICU to help COVID patients needing respiratory assistance.
“During that time, it was not easy for everybody,” said Merisier. “Being in the health care system, you see things the population doesn’t see.”
Merisier says Jean-Baptiste’s portraits helped her feel seen.
“She also was able to give the Black community a voice, so it’s a part of history now,” said Merisier. “I’m very grateful she contacted me.”
Casseus, a dental hygienist for kids, began COVID testing residents at long-term care homes in Montreal’s East End when the pandemic hit.
“I think at the beginning, you’re really scared to catch the disease, but then it gets to a point where you just have to get your act together and work,” said Casseus. “As I feel in the long run I was doing my duty, it was nice to have someone say, ‘are you aware of what you’re doing?’”
Jean-Baptiste says she is so pleased with the positive response to her series of portraits that she will continue to highlight Black women health care workers.
“My goal initially was to honour them,” she said. “So for them to feel that it achieved its aim, really is touching to me.
“I know there’s a second wave coming. I think it’s going to continue to impact us, and I want to be able to continue to tell those stories.”