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Concordia photographer wins national prize

Mika Goodfriend's Snowbirds series explores thriving Québécois culture in Florida
August 28, 2012
By Louise Morgan

Images of trailer-park snowbirds have won Mika Goodfriend a national award. The Concordia photography graduate garnered the top spot in BMO Financial Group's 1st Art! Invitational Student Art Competition — and a $10,000 prize.

His winning photos, part of his Snowbirds series, capture the thriving Québécois culture that permeates the community of Breezy Hill RV Resort in Florida’s Pompano Beach. The well-manicured trailer park, which provides a winter home to 1,800 well-to-do families of whom 95 per cent are Quebecers, also provided artistic inspiration.
“When I started my BFA, I became interested in the aesthetics of the Québécois culture,” says Goodfriend.

Mika Goodfriend
Mika Goodfriend | Photo by Mika Goodfriend

Having spent Christmas holidays with his grandparents in Florida, he knew about the snowbird phenomenon, where retired Québécois flock to the sunshine state for the winter.

But what he discovered in Breezy Hill was something special. His neighbour’s aunt — who lived there and deejayed at the Saturday-night country dances, insisted he come see the resort.

“It’s an affluent community. At first, I was amazed that they would want to live together in a trailer-park setting — but now I understand, having spent 35 days living among them last December. It’s a wonderful community they’ve created,” he says, noting he witnessed their remarkable joie de vivre, dancing, drinking and celebrating together.

“It’s exactly like a Québécois village, except there are palm trees instead of pine trees,” says Goodfriend. “The people, the decor, the license plates — the residents basically transport their culture from Quebec. What also fascinates me is that it’s a gated community about four blocks square. Outside the gates is very poor, rural Florida. That contrast was very interesting to me.”

Mika Goodfriend
Benoit et Suzanne, 32" x 40", 2012, Reynald et Marylda, 32" x 40", 2012

“Even though I grew up in Montreal, I never connected with Québécois culture or traditions, partly due to my anglophone upbringing. Through my practice, I endeavour to explore what being Québécois means to me by photographing those who feel they are woven into its cultural fabric.”

Goodfriend graduated this year with a BFA in studio arts, with a major in photography, with great distinction. In 2003, he earned his BA in communication studies from Concordia, which served him well in his previous career as a film editor. He foresees a return to film in the long term, this time with a fine arts perspective.

“I wanted to study photography to go back to the basics of image-making, to develop my own artistic voice so I can work on my own projects with complete creative control,” he says.

“Coming back to Concordia is one of best decisions I’ve ever made. I think there’s a vigour and clarity of pursuit when you’re older and decide to go back to school,” Goodfriend says. “This time around, I’m studying for me.”

Mika Goodfriend
Mika Goodfriend with Fernand Boyer, one of the snowbirds, in Florida, January 2012 | Photo by Louise Boyer

Goodfriend credits Concordia’s environment, facilities and teachers, who push each student to exceed their own expectations. His strongest professional influence came from Assistant Professor Jessica Auer, herself a two-time graduate of Concordia.

“I really wanted to excel in her classes, to live up to the standard she set for the class and for me,” he says. “Chih-Chien Wang is another of my favourites.”

BMO 1st Art! is Canada's only national graduating artist competition that honours visual arts excellence in post-secondary institutions. Goodfriend is the first national winner from Concordia.

Goodfriend’s photos will now become part of the BMO Corporate Art Collection, which includes Canadian masters such as Emily Carr, Kenojuak Ashevak, Paterson Ewen, Marc-Aurèle Fortin and Lawren Harris.The 2012 contest’s winning entries will be exhibited at Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art from October 3 to 28, 2012.

Goodfriend has exhibited pieces from the Snowbirds series at Espace F,an artist-run centre in Matane, Quebec.

With his BMO 1st Art! winnings, Goodfriend plans to invest in his career. Before heading into a master’s program in photography, he’s taking a year off to continue working on Snowbirds with the hope of creating a monograph of his personal experience living with the residents of Breezy Hill.

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