‘Offensive’ photos taken at Canada’s National Holocaust Monument have been removed from Instagram: Ottawa photographer

A week before the annual Yom ha-Shoah remembrance ceremony at Canada’s National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa, a photographer has stirred up condemnation for using the site as a location to promote his own business.

A series of six photos were posted this week to a social media account belonging to the Ottawa photographer who is known professionally as Michael Dupe, although he also goes by Mikey Calds. The undated photos show poses of a young woman model – including one where she is braless and wearing a crop top that shows the outline of her nipples—at the Holocaust monument west of Parliament Hill in downtown Ottawa.

“Want to book a shoot? On going (sic) outdoor sessions available,” reads the cutline under the photos.

Some concerned members of the capital’s photography community notified a Jewish Facebook group in Ottawa of the existence of the photos. They also reached out to Calds privately.

“Someone had to speak up about this,” said Kamara Morozuk, a freelance photographer with a decade of experience.

Morozuk said it’s well known in the city’s photography community that the Holocaust Memorial site is off limits, no matter how evocative the concrete six triangles and 21 panels are.

“You’re not going to go outside a church and take pictures of people half naked,” Morozuk said. “There’s plenty of cool architectural places in Ottawa.”

Morozuk did reach out to Calds to “give him the benefit of the doubt”, figuring that he may not have been aware of the significance of the location. But the pair then got into an unpleasant exchange on social media, with both posting negative comments and reviews of each other’s work.

“If taking a photo with grey walls as a backdrop is a crime, lock me up,” Calds wrote, adding that he isn’t the first person to shoot there and won’t be the last. “I’m not taking down my work.”

Kamara Morozuk
Kamara Morozuk, an Ottawa photographer who says it is well known locally that you don’t do photoshoots at the National Holocaust Memorial. (Jess Deeks photo).

Jewish community’s reaction:

As word of the photos reached Ottawa’s Jewish community, they prompted outrage and even incredulity.

“It’s offensive to desecrate a place that’s supposed to be for thoughtful prayer and reflection and remembrance and mourning,” said Andrea Freedman, the president of the Ottawa Jewish Federation.

She told The CJN that this kind of thing has happened once before, in 2018, involving a different photographer doing a fashion shoot at the Holocaust Monument. But in that case, the photographer quickly destroyed the images and was remorseful.

“It is deeply, deeply offensive and really just demonstrates the lack of education that still exists in our society about the Shoah and the Holocaust,” Freedman said.

On the broader ethical issue, she has no issues with tourists wanting to share their experiences visiting the solemn monument by taking photos and showing them privately to others. Freedman understands why those kinds of snapshots could be acceptable.

“If somebody goes to learn about the Holocaust and wants to educate their friends about their experience, that’s a very respectful picture to take and hopefully encourages other people to visit the monument for the right reasons,” she said.

Also weighing in was Richard Marceau, a senior government advisor with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“You really think this photo shoot is appropriate for a Monument dedicated to the memory of 6,000,000 #Jews killed during the #Holocaust?”, Marceau tweeted on Wednesday April 20.

Even the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Secretary, Liberal MP Greg Fergus, who represents the riding of Hull-Aylmer, shared the controversy with his 12,500 followers on Twitter.

Photographer responds

After a barrage of pushback from his peers, from Jewish groups and others, the photographer Michael Calds, did walk back somewhat from his initial angry reaction. The photos were taken down from his Instagram account: dupe.png.

“I won’t be shooting there anymore as I know it’s a place for reflection and I respect that,” Calds told The CJN in an email Thursday.

Michael Dupe
Screencap of Michael Dupe, the photographer also known as Mikey Calds, in Ottawa. (Instagram)

He didn’t appreciate the extent of the negative reaction to his photos and said he is going to take legal action against anyone who uses the photos which he took of the young woman.

“I’ve been extremely attacked for the past 24 hours, literally every name under the sun, people attacking my brand, reputation and who I am as a person without them having any real knowledge of who I am,” he wrote.

When asked why he used the photos to promote his business, Calds denied he took them for commercial reasons. Instead, he explained that they were done as a personal art project.

“My intentions were never to cause harm to anyone. I’m an artist and I do work that I find aesthetically pleasing for myself. I was promoting my outdoor Photoshoot sessions by shooting outdoors in a public space. I didn’t know they cause the trouble that they did so they were removed.”

To date, Calds has not apologized to members of the Jewish community.

Holocaust monument needs educational guides: CHES

The Ottawa-based Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES) called the timing of the photoshoot incident “very disturbing”, as it was made public just days before the National Yom HaShoah memorial ceremony.

“I would like to assume that this disrespectful incident was the result of lack of understanding of what this monument stands for,” said Mina Cohn, CHES’ director.  

Which is why Cohn maintains that there should be updated interpretive guides installed at the site, bolstered by free, downloadable audio guides or other forms of readily-available interactive displays about the Holocaust Monument.

“The monument is standing like an orphan,” Cohn told The CJN Sunday. “There’s no guided tours, there’s nothing.”

Her organization is working with the USC Shoah Foundation and Liberation75 to develop an IWalk app for the Ottawa site, much like existing educational IWalks already developed for former Holocaust sites in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Visitors to the area can bring their phones or tablets to see site-specific video clips of survivors’ testimony, maps, and other interpretive material at different stops along the route.

CHES will be working on the Ottawa IWalk for the next two years, using Canadian experts to build the virtual guide for the Holocaust Monument, but Cohn did not say when the walk will go “live”.

“The project aims to combine the physical experience of the National Holocaust Monument with virtual interactive experiences to expand the understanding of the history of the Holocaust and the experience of Canadian Holocaust survivors,” she said.

Budget measures to combat antisemitism with Holocaust education

The controversy comes just two weeks after the federal government tabled its 2022 budget, which included $70 million for Holocaust education museums, as well as funding for the office of Canada’s special envoy on Holocaust Remembrance, Professor Irwin Cotler. The Liberals have also proposed amending the Criminal Code to make denial or downplaying of the Holocaust a crime.

CHES recently announced it will be giving a series of webinars on Holocaust education and antisemitism to the administrators at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board this spring. Entitled “Unpacking Complexity in the Classroom”, the program helps provide teachers the tools to tackle controversial subjects.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” said Andrea Freedman, the Ottawa Jewish federation’s president. “We’ve seen a dramatic rise in antisemitism, and it’s not going away so quickly, and there are antidotes to this to put it back under the rock where it belongs.”

Aside from education, she welcomed the tightening of laws that criminalize Holocaust denial, and the other measures announced in the budget.

“Those are important steps, but they’re also, unfortunately, very necessary steps.”

Freedman isn’t expecting the insensitive photographs to be a topic that will come up next Thursday April 28, when the Holocaust memorial site will be the location of an in-person ceremony to mark Yom ha-Shoah.

“I really would be very hesitant to see something like this overshadow what’s a really important day and a really meaningful and impactful day,” she said.

Billed as the first ever intergenerational commemoration in Ottawa, the ceremony will have Holocaust survivors, representatives of the Embassy of Israel, Canadian politicians and foreign dignitaries, Michael Levitt of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA, Ian Sherman of the Ottawa Jewish Federation, the Tamir choir, and students from Ottawa’s Jewish day schools, among other guests.

Canada’s national Holocaust monument was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, and unveiled in September 2017. The Canadian government donated $4 million to the project, while Canada’s Jewish community raised a further $4.5 million. But the site was not without its own controversies. The original plaque on the main entrance did not mention the word Jews when explaining the Holocaust, and needed to be redone once the glaring omission was pointed out.