Mario Villeneuve had visited Yukon many times in summer, his knapsack on his back, like the happy wanderer in the famous folk song, and he had gone into the backcountry countless times before realizing, at long last, that “this was the best place in the world to live.”
With the click of his shutter lens, Villeneuve captures an image that will adorn the cover of an outdoors magazine.
Another click: this time it’s a shot for the sports pages of a newspaper.
Click, click, click: Three smiles are professionally immortalized in a family album.
With a BA in photography, Villeneuve has what it takes to capture all sorts of images. In his hands, a camera is no longer a camera, but a paintbrush that brings life to a canvas.
“I have two passions: photography and history. It’s the combination of the two that have made me the artist I am today,” he says humbly, and adds that he views his passions as a gift of life.
“I wanted to build my own cameras, invent new development processes based on early methods,” he says as an explanation of his personal journey.
Villeneuve’s story begins in Hawkesbury, a small bilingual town in Ontario bordering Quebec. After graduating from the University of Ottawa, he boarded a train heading west to explore the country, and his innate curiosity took him to Yukon.
Nature, a rich aboriginal culture, the history of the Klondike Gold Rush – the territory had everything to lure a wanderer like him.
“It’s one of the last frontiers in the world,” he says, adding that photography buffs will find an “environment of challenges” here. Winter temperatures can be very harsh on equipment and the body. “Adjusting the lens at minus 40 Celsius can be difficult, and travelling safely in the forest in summer also requires a fair bit of preparation.”
Villeneuve is nevertheless richly rewarded for his efforts.
“The light and colours of the North are truly spectacular,” he says. He finds the eternal sunsets and the beauty of the landscape very inspiring. In practising his art, Villeneuve turns the world into a camera to photograph life as it happens. He has also developed a collection of images that give an oldtime feel to contemporary scenes.
His work is displayed at several Yukon galleries, and he is currently working on a new exhibit.
It will feature more than a hundred mislaid mittens – a different approach to depicting the human hand by this talented Franco-Yukoner. Those who share Villeneuve’s passion will no doubt also want to try a different approach the next time they take travel photos.
This article is excerpted from the second edition of a tourism brochure created by RDEE Yukon, the economic development branch of the Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY). You can get a copy of the brochure (in French) at the Centre de la francophonie in Whitehorse or at the tourism information centre
in your community.