Photographs, words and sounds

Adventures in Pastry – Episode 1


Is this a new exciting thing on my blog? It just might be. This is what happens when you leave Little Miss F. and me alone with a computer, a mic, and a cookbook. This is the very first cheesecake I ever made and we made a 12 minute show out of it. It could do with some additional editing, but what the heck… And yes, it was delicious.



Seventeen. We are almost adults Ms. M. On Brackley Beach, PEI this past September.

Neighbourhood troubles…


It was almost a relief. The murder that took place two weeks ago in a house on our previously quiet cul-de-sac was a logical outcome of nearly two years of what one of our neighbours called “terrorizing” presence of a drug house on the street. Two years of constant night traffic, fights, screaming, discarded needles and, lately, prostitution, countless calls to the city, to the landlord and to the police at the end did not accomplish much of anything. It took a vicious beating that eventually became a murder for the residents to be taken seriously.


It was about two years ago that the drug dealers moved in and, with them, very slowly, fear moved in as well. The kids stopped playing outside, the neighbours stopped talking on the street, calls were made anonymously, everybody closed blinds in the evening and the lights were turned off because nobody wanted to be mistaken for “that” house. I would sometime work late at night on my thesis with the light on in the living room only to have somebody knock on the door looking for his or her next hit. Then car wrecks appeared around the drug house and eventually garbage was strewn up and down the street and the little park at the end of the street became a depository of used condoms and needles.


Immediately after the murder and a fire that followed it, the media descended on the street in the least helpful way. The house where the crime took place became a backdrop. You could almost feel the glee in the reporters’ voices. 


Police interviewed all of us and there was suddenly a whole new vocabulary and a whole new world that came with it. We learned that what was in our neighbourhood was a “flop house.” We learned about complex drug distribution chains and that the little blue plastic vials we were finding everywhere were actually water ampules used to quickly prepare drugs for intravenous use. We also learned about police procedures and about city officials more concerned with liability than the fact that somebody might step on a used needle. Most of all, we learned about each other. I now know most of the names of the people who live on our street. We actually like each other. And we all like our neighbourhood. It’s up to us now to keep those connections alive and we hopefully will do just that in the coming months.


Photography rant… and photos from Fair Island


Recently, a full-time photojournalism position opened at a local daily. I considered applying. For years, that was the kind of job I really wanted. It was the only job I wanted. And then it struck me that I don’t want that job any more. Or at least, I don’t want the job that I would be asked to do. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about where, when and why my own view of what photojournalism should be diverged from what photojournalism is. Some of it has to do with technology, but there are other and more important things, too.

The imaging technology has changed dramatically and I am bored to death with it. I am bored with new digital cameras. I am bored with megapixels and neverending upgrade cycles. I am bored with HD video. I am particularly bored with videos that start out out of focus and then slowly bring into focus some mundane and usually irrelevant object or a generic street scene. I am bored by partially desaturated images. Entire newspapers filled with portraits bore me to tears. I am not bored, but offended by HDR – it’s just kitsch of the worst kind. I am also offended by selective colouring. I know, it was done in the 1920s as well as today. It was bad then and it’s bad now. Please let it die and please, please don’t publish it in daily newspapers. I am bored with journalists who are trying to be cool on twitter and I am bored with the publications that are forcing their writers and photographers to become celebrities. I am embarrassed to read tweets by local, national and international reporters passing themselves off as some sort of experts on one thing or another.

It’s never a good thing when a journalist becomes a story. The details are usually either sordid or horrifying and almost always a result of an unchecked ego better suited to some other professions. It’s cool to see your name in print, but a byline or a photo credit is where it should end. Just look at the two latest controversies in the world of photojournalism: the Paolo Pellegrin photo from an ill-conceived Magnum Rochester project (here, here, here) and the debate over this year’s World Press Photo winner Paul Hansen’s post-processing of the winning photograph (here and here). None of this did any good to anybody. It’s important to discuss and draw attention to, but it does no good. Somehow photojournalism stopped being about stories.

Local daily is a great example of that. At least once a week, the front page features a photo of some poor bastard dragged into or out of a courtroom. For the rest of the week we have people staring at us from the front page. I can’t figure out what that contributes to the readers’ understanding of the news the journalists and the editors obviously thought important enough to cover and print that day. It’s easy to criticize daily photojournalists. The pressures to produce something out of thin air is huge and the job is becoming more stressful than ever.  Deep down, I never was a daily photographer anyway. My heart had always been, even before I knew that, in long-form story telling both visual and narrative.



Over the last few weeks, my wife dug out a set of 6×4 prints I gave her years ago. We always thought we should work on some sort of a collaborative project, but between kids, grad studies, moves and jobs there was no time for that. She pulled them out now and it is fascinating to watch these photographs come alive as poetry, essays, mini-plays and short stories. Then last Friday, I had one of those moments that reminded me what is that I love so much about photography. That story started almost two years ago.

My MA thesis supervisor invited me and the family to come with her and her husband to a small reunion held on Fair Island, a resettled island community off the east coast of the main island of Newfoundland. Her husband’s family were Fair Islanders. It was August, but the weather was miserable. Nonetheless, we went and we had great time. I made some photographs and posted one of them here. The photograph I liked the most was the one at the top of this post. Context is important here. The photograph (in my mind anyway) is called “A pipefitter and a gaming executive make fish in a resettled community.” What you see here are not two fishermen, although I suspect both of them would be happier if they were fishermen. What you see is two people with roots deep in a community that does not exist any more engaged in an activity that is crucial to their identity, but it is meaningless economically. For me, this is in many ways a quintessential Newfoundland small island photograph. Except, this past Friday I found out that this is not the most interesting or the most important photograph I made that day.

Sometime last year, I got a call from the Research Centre for Music, Media and Place at the university I work at asking if I would allow them to use the Fair Island photo they found on my blog. A few folks working at the centre were taking a beginners documentary film making class and they were producing a short doc on Stan Pickett, an accordion player originally from Fair Island. You can hear and see Stan play in the video bellow.

I said sure and told them that I had a few more photos and that they are free to chose any of them. They picked three. Last Friday, the class got together and screened the three shorts they made to a very small audience of their classmates and a few other people who in some way helped with their projects. I was invited as a courtesy and came out of curiosity. Stan Picket was in the audience, too.

The films were quite good. In fact, given that they were made in 14 weeks by people who never made a film before, they were great. After the screening, I was introduced to Stan and we got chatting. I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of other photos from Fair Island. His eyes glanced over the fish-making photo, but the little pond, the pillars of the old church and the photo of stages and stores at the end of a wharf caught his attention. He became animated and happy, in fact so happy that his excitement was contagious.


It turns out that the little pond known as ‘the rink’ sitting in ‘the meesh’ (marsh) was not just a place to play a game of hockey, but also a major social space. There were bonfires on the neighbouring hills and games and midnight runs with torches between the hills. Stan could just spin one story after another and I kept wishing I had a recorder rolling. The photo below brought the memories of “old-year-out-new-year-in-day” and downhill races in an old wooden punt that would end at the bottom of the gulch and, sometimes, in the ocean. And the church pillars? Well it was his dad who started the church and… It was magical.


FairIsland17And that’s what photographs should do. They should tell stories, make us tell stories, and make us imagine stories. Today’s newspaper photography fails at all of it most of the time and I am not naïve enough to think that I could somehow change that even if I could get that job in what is bound to be an insanely intense competition. So, I’ll keep doing it my way and, thanks to Stan, I have a great idea for a project.


On Fogo Island

On Fogo Island for next few days with Laurie Brinklow, a fellow islander, publisher, writer, poet and a PhD student at the University of Tasmania. Check out her island adventures!

Your last chance to get some prints at half price

The fundraising campaign for my Islands Landscapes exhibit is closing on September 1. Although you cannot quite tell from the campaign website, it was very successful. Beside cash donations, for which I am very grateful, a generous local photographer offered the use of her darkroom for free, which, besides making this exhibit possible, is also a VERY substantial in-kind donation. Several freelance assignments will cover another chunk of the cost. The only thing left is framing which currently stands at about $1,200. Between freelance fees, licensing fees and donations, I am almost there, but still need a bit of help. Below is the original video for the exhibit and I have also set up a new page with the final selection of images (although that is a subject to change). If you like any of them and would like to have a true silver gelatine print of your own there is still time to make a donation and get that print at a 50% discount. To make a donation click here.

Photo links

Photo links post today because I have some really good ones.

First, check out this photo essay in The Economist (of all places) by Saiful Huq Omi on Bangladeshi ship breakers.

Second, here are two sets of vintage photographs. The first set comes courtesy of my super-duper brother and features an amazing compilation of colour photographs of the great depression – quite unlike the stuff we are used to seeing from that era. The second link (h/t kottke) features a flickr set of vintage photos of Moscow from the early 1900s.

And finally, check out this very, very cool video (h/t Peter Power) featuring the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the man himself in the background talking about various aspects of photography. My favourite quote: “After certain age, you get a face you deserve.”

In the photograph is Jean-Claude Roy, a French painter who divides his time between France and Newfoundland, painting across the street from our house.

Croatian word of the day: slikar painter



[Old Blog] Work, work, work…

Buried in work.

Change Islands, Newfoundland.

Croatian word of the day: rad work


[Old Blog] Woody Island Tickle, cardboard sculptures, graffiti stickers, Lightning Fields, Design Observer, social campaigns, Scandinavian logos

A bunch of design links collecting digital dust in my To-Be-Blogged folder.

Check out these ridiculously amazing cardboard sculptures.

Michael Anderson collected at least 40,000 graffiti stickers and used them to create a mural in a hotel lobby.

These 26 social campaigns range from weird to brilliant, but they are all worth checking out.

Design Observer makes for an interesting read.

I am not sure I’d call it photography, but it certainly is beautiful: Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lightning Fields [h/t kottke].

Here is a flickr set of Scandinavian Design Logos from the ‘60s and ‘70s [h/t/ Quipsologies].

The photo: old style lobster traps on Woody Island Tickle, Change Islands, Newfoundland. Woody Island Tickle was once the site of a small fishing community that at one point even had a school. Today, there is nothing left except a few logs marking the place where the fishing stages once stood.

Croatian word of the day: zamka trap


[Old Blog] Change Islands

Old cemetery on Change Islands, Newfoundland.

Croatian word of the day: groblje cemetery [gro blie]


[Old Blog] Post-secondary education, Change Islands, some news

I was going to write a really nasty rant about yesterday’s front page story in the Globe and Mail about the presidents of Canada’s largest five universities insisting like petulant children that they should be the only ones allowed to do research and train graduate students, but I figured we are pretty safe here in Atlantic Canada. I gather from the story that the poor stunned buggers, to use an apt Newfoundland expression, are not aware there is anything in the world east of Montreal. So we’ll be okay as long as we keep flying under the radar. Now, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are a whole different kettle of fish.

Man, such arrogance makes me want to put on one of those Free Newfoundland shirts

On a much happier note: I am awaiting the delivery of a Yashica Mat 124G and you should get your hands on a copy of the next issue ofSaltscapes magazine. My fabulous significant other and I have a six page spread on corner stores in the September/October issue.

Change Islands, Newfoundland.

Croatian word of the day: sveučilište university [sve uchi li shte]


[Old Blog] Entry 88

Another Symphony New Brunswick photo.

I watched the presidential debate yesterday. How can anybody still be undecided, for heaven’s sake?

Bosnian news magazine BH Dani [BH Days] features a column by Aleksandar Hemon about eerie parallels between the Bosnia just before all hell broke loose and today’s U.S. I know that only one and a half people who read this can actually read it, but I felt compelled to share it. The text is about the time that the columnist recently spent with an American friend Andy and the inability of “good Americans” (pretty much everybody outside the current administration) to imagine the world they are slowly being dragged into. He compares it to his own reaction to a speech full of fear and hatred by a Bosnian Serb leader in which he threatened Bosnian non-Serb population with genocide. Here is my inept translation:

In other words, I could not even begin to imagine what was already his reality and what was – while he was giving the speech – becoming our reality. That was a moment of total defeat of imagination – a moment when my reason and my imagination were not able to comprehend that which was already happening.

He goes on describing how he feverishly tried to explain to his American friend what the horrors of Abu Ghraib really mean, to talk to him about “contractors” who are nothing more than mercenaries recruited from former South African death squads and Balkan butchers and as such responsible for disappearances of Iraqi citizens and alleged terrorists:

While I was telling him all this with a paranoid passion, I saw in his face that he cannot conceive that which is already happening. In that moment, I understood that Bush had already won because the reality he created cannot be conceived by good Americans.

I am more optimistic. I think that good Americans have intelligence, and innate respect for themselves and their neighbours to make a right decision in November. After last night’s debate, how could they not?