Photoshoot at National Holocaust Monument causes uproar

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An Ottawa photographer’s modeling session at the National Holocaust Monument raises questions about what is appropriate behavior at such a sacred site.

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Photographer Michael Dupe posted four photos to his Instagram account of a young woman who used the monument’s stark concrete walls and sharp angles and shadows to create a dramatic backdrop.

The photos sparked a backlash on social media. One commentator called it disrespectful, saying “many members of the Jewish community are rightly angry…”

Richard Marceau, author of a book on the Jews of Quebec, tweeted his own reprimand:Do you really think this photo shoot is appropriate for a monument dedicated to the memory of 6,000,000 #The Jews killed during the #Holocaust?”

In his own tweet Wednesday night, Hull-Aylmer MP Greg Fergus called the shooting “totally inappropriate.”

“I am stunned by the lack of common sense of this photographer (and everyone involved as well),” Fergus wrote.

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On Thursday morning, Dupe appeared to have deleted the post, but not before posting his own responses to some of the criticism.

‘If taking a photo with gray walls as a backdrop is a crime, lock me up,’ he said, pointing out that there were no plaques or anything else in the photos identifying the site as the Holocaust monument.

“If you don’t want people shooting at certain city walls, you should put on a reflective vest, grab a whistle, and go stand in front of them all year round.”

The National Holocaust Monument opened in 2017 on LeBreton Flats, its high concrete walls and peaks forming a Star of David seen from above. Some surfaces feature huge monochrome photos of Holocaust sites by Toronto photographer Edward Burtynsky.

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Its striking brutalist architecture has also caught the attention of other photographers. In 2018, an unauthorized fashion shoot caused a similar backlash.

Justin Van Leeuwen, a professional photographer who runs a Facebook page for the photo community, said the latest controversy raises an interesting debate about public space.

“It’s not illegal. And I don’t think it should be because then you have to have an app and that’s something we don’t want,” Van Leeuwen said. “It’s the company doing its own app.”

Van Leeuwen said that while Ottawa has many examples of brutalist architecture that are so alluring to photographers, they are not allowed to photograph there.

“You can’t go take a picture at Place du Portage because security will kick you,” he said.

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Van Leeuwen says he saw other photographers use the Holocaust monument uncritically and others shoot at the nearby Royal Canadian Navy monument on the Ottawa River.

“If it’s not OK at the Holocaust memorial, is it OK to do it there?” How about a selfie (at the Holocaust monument)? Are you OK ? Is it OK to post it on Instagram? ” He asked.

“The mere fact that we are engaging in space is important and part of the memory it is meant to permeate. As a creative, you want to use what you see. The only thing holding you back is your moral sense.

Van Leeuwen believes it was Dupe’s initial reaction to the critics that caused the issue to explode.

Mina Cohn, director of the Center for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, said the monument was an important part of remembering and reflecting on the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II. This is not the place for a photo shoot, she said.

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“It shows a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust. It’s just common sense that you shouldn’t do that,” Cohn said.

While Cohn wants people to visit the memorial space, “I don’t think they were there to learn about the Holocaust.”

In an email exchange Thursday morning, Dupe said he had taken down the photos and would no longer use the monument for his photography.

“That’s why the 4 photos were deleted for my personal Instagram account. I shouldn’t have done portrait photography at a memorial,” Dupe said.

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