Newfoundland and Labrador
With the last episode of Rural Routes we waded into the territory of knowledge. Local knowledge. You can hear an artist and a scholar Pam Hall talking about her project Towards the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge.
The photo was made on Fogo Island two years ago. It’s been a while since we were there.
You’d think that now that I produce regular content, I’d be able to update this blog. Not so, apparently!
The latest episode of Rural Routes is up and it’s really good, even if I say so. Dr. Arn Keeling and Dr. John Sandlos talk about mining industry in Canadian North and the environmental legacy of large mining projects. Give it a listen – it’s an episode with zombies, enough arsenic to kill everybody on the planet, and a message of hope. What more could you ask for?
The photo was made in Middle Cove just outside of St. John’s, Newfoundland.
New Rural Routes episode is out. This time, my guest was Bill Reimer, a sociologist at Concordia University in Montreal. Bill has been looking into all matters rural for over 40 years and still looks forward to every encounter that can help him understand rural Canada a little bit better. I’ve been joking that if there were such a thing as a rural council of the wise, he would be Gandalf of that council. Enjoy the show!
The photograph was made on Change Islands quite some time ago. This man is spreading kelp in his garden as fertilizer. I really wish I could go back there more often.
A bit of an announcement post. For the past few months I have been quietly working on a project that is now ready to be made public. As many of you know, my day job is very much focused on rural Newfoundland and Labrador and through that job I get to work with a lot (you should probably read that most) of rural researchers in this country and some from further abroad. After a while, it became obvious that most of the research I was aware of never makes it into the public domain. So, as part of my job, I decided to start a podcast. A colleague with a particular flair for copy writing named it Rural Routes. Over the coming weeks you will be able to hear interviews with rural researchers, writers, entrepreneurs, artists, fishers and farmers. We are hoping to get some funding in place that would allow us to do a little bit more down the road. For now, go to www.ruralroutespodcasts.com and hear what we have on air.
The photo was made sometime last year with my phone in Port Rexton, NL.
A neglected blog. Out of necessity, I might add, because in three weeks, through my work, I am going to launch an exciting new project that I think the readers of the blog will like as well. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the photo links on this snowy Thursday:
A fascinating story about an American photographer Louise Draper. Really excellent work and it is indeed interesting that he languishes in obscurity.
On lensculture, go see Javier Corso’s Fishshot. It’s an interesting project about issues of loneliness and violence plaguing Finland of all places. I am not sure what I think about the photographs and his approach, but he raises important questions.
Check out these charming Portuguese “lonely houses” work of photographer Manuel Pita who goes by the nom de plume (or is it nom de lumière for photographers) Sejkko. You can follow his work on instagram.
Photographer Viktor Egyed based in Slovakia has a lovely set of images from a village called Szödliget in Hungary.
Robert Götzfried, a Munich, Germany based photographer, has a set of images from his trip on the backroads of the southern United States.
Contemplative, serene seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto are a wonder. You’ll love it.
At first, reading the stories about newly elected (installed? appointed?) Croatian government run by a group of right wing political parties calling themselves the Patriotic Coalition was like watching a Monty Python skit. From a safe distance of some 5,000 km, it was almost funny. It isn’t any more. It is rapidly becoming a horror show.
More that a hundred years ago, speaking in San Francisco, Emma Goldman described what we call patriotism in terms that ring very much true today:
“Patriotism […] is a superstition artificially created and maintained through a network of lies and falsehoods; a superstition that robs man of his self respect and dignity, and increases his arrogance and conceit. Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are essentials of patriotism.”
The photograph was made in St. John’s, NL.
Today, there is more news about layoffs in Canadian media industry. This time it’s not the CBC that is getting decimated, but Postmedia. They are laying off 90 reporters and merging newsrooms in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa. In the meantime, the people responsible for the chaos are collecting seven and six figure salaries. I guess it takes enormous effort to be consistently that greedy and incompetent. The situation is no better in Halifax where the unionized employees of the Chronicle Herald have voted in favour of a strike action after the management presented a truly reprehensible list of demands.
All of it is a bit of a deja vu, to be honest. In 1999 and 2000, Ms. M and I worked for a small news agency covering southern Alberta for major metro dailies. Those were contract positions filled mostly by students like us and they required that you have your own equipment and a car and that you work from home. We lived in a small bachelor apartment in Inglewood and, honestly, those were sweet times. We were newlyweds and we thought we were making inroads in the media industry. Then the Calgary Herald strike happened. It lasted a year if I remember correctly. At one point, about half way through the strike, we were all hauled into a meeting with our editor and this guy they brought from Ontario (St. Catherine’s, I think) as the new publisher whose job was to bust the union. He intermittently yelled at us and tried to sweet-talk us into crossing the picket line. When it became obvious, with the exception of one person, that none of us had any intention of doing so, he told us he will make sure none of us ever worked in the media industry in western Canada. He was true to his word. As far as I know, none of us did – except the guy who crossed the picket line. That asshole who threatened us? He has recently published a book about leadership.
It became quickly obvious to me and Ms. M. that if we wanted media jobs, the best we could do was to move and so we did. A couple of months after we left, the Calgary Herald strike ended. One of the conditions was that the union had to be dissolved.
On this week’s episode of Canadaland, Jesse Brown has a conversation with Nora Loreto about the role of unions in Canadian media. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that I do support the show financially with a subscription. In this episode Jesse Brown, the host of Canadaland, is his usual somewhat pompous and somewhat unaware-of-the-world-outside-of-his-bubble self and Nora Loreto doesn’t appear to understand anybody younger than 35, but I think it was very important to have that conversation publicly. We need unions more than ever, but something needs to change and it needs to change quickly. The unions have to figure out how to make themselves relevant to a new generation of workers – journalists included.
In 2000, we did not cross the picket line because we had respect for the Herald journalists. We were never approached by the union, never offered their side of the story, nobody explained to us what was at stake. In the end, they were just lucky we felt solidarity with the people we saw as our colleagues. Or maybe we were just not yet aware that it would take another 15 years before we paid off our student loans. They can’t expect to be that lucky all of the time.
In the photo is a decidedly non-unionized shoeshiner on the Water Street in St. John’s
We had a What-do-you-want-for-Christmas? conversation:
Me (pompously): “For Christmas, I want a book that will challenge me, introduce me to new ideas, and make me a better person.”
Little Miss F.: “So you want a book on how to treat your children properly?”
The photo was made during a recent walk in Middle Cove.
The photograph above was made on my way to work one day. I have no idea why these old suitcases were left outside by the fence – probably just for garbage pick up.
Time for some geography links. I haven’t done that in a while.
Let’s start with the worst news in a while as far as magazine industry, and to an extend geography goes. In Canada, geography is very poorly taught in primary, elementary, and secondary school system. To make things worse, even our national popular magazine about geography, Canadian Geographic, is so abysmal we actually did not renew our subscription. So the fact that National Geographic has been purchased by Fox is really tragic. National Geographic is not a perfect magazine, but it is the best magazine on the market that promotes geographic knowledge and encourages interest in the world we live in. It has a strong American bias and a share of other issues, but we had subscription for years. I read every issue and the girls are starting to read stories that are of interest to them. I would like to think that editorial independence and high standards, especially when it comes to visuals will remain as they are or get better, but Fox’s track record is not good. Not cancelling my subscription yet, but watching closely.
After you contemplate the terrifying concentration of the global media ownership, head over to the Economist and take a look at a story that claims that the EU will soon have more internal physical barriers to movement of people than it did during the Cold War.
The rest of the links should be a little bit less pessimistic.
Lucas Foglia has been photographing American West and is concerned about what rural America will look like: “What is going to allow people to continue to live in the rural American West and how are we going to preserve or use the wild land we have left?”
Cornell University Library and its Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections has made public an amazing collection of persuasive cartography. Watch out, it’s highly addictive and you may find yourself wasting ridiculous amount of time – although, in my books, that would not be time wasted.
Two somewhat connected and fascinating stories. The first one looks at just how powerful oral traditions are as repositories of community knowledge. University of Sunshine Coast geographer Patrick Dunn’s research demonstrated that some Australian Aboriginal stories preserve environmental and ecological memories and knowledge stretching as far back as 7,000 years. The second story comes from the world of art and focuses on incredible work by an Australian Aboriginal painter Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. The fascinating thing is that his intricate paintings are not just visually impressive, but also serve as a repository of community stories. The code is incomprehensible to us, but those who understand it have an access to a lot more than a visually arresting work.
One of my favourite things to photograph in St. John’s is the Royal St. John’s Regatta. It takes place on such a massive scale and in such a uniquely St. John’s way that nothing else really compares to it. Every year, I promise myself that I will spend some time photographing the actual rowers who spend months preparing for the event and I yet have to do that. The crowds are just too compelling. Here are a few photographs from this year’s festivities.
For gear heads: This was all Tri-X in Rodinal.
If you read anything today, make it this series of exceptional stories from New York Times on lawlessness on the high seas. Most of it actually occurs in connection with illegal fishery, which is an incredibly lucrative business.
You can access the whole package through the splash page here or individual pieces:
“Sea Slaves”: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock – on slave labour of the world’s fishing industry.
This was so good that I wanted to read all of it and have actually paid digital subscription once I hit the monthly limit of free stories. I suspected all along that if you want people to pay for your digital subscriptions you have to provide unparalleled content and New York Times provided an amazing content. There is a lesson here for Canadian newspapers if there are any real ones left out there.
Middle Cove Beach last year. Perfectly legal caplin rolling.
This is Change Islands and that place alone accounts for a few hundreds of reasons why living in Newfoundland is fabulous, but the reason 23451 to live in Newfoundland is a very old lady who lives just around the corner, knocks on your door and delivers handmade knitted mice filled with catnip because she saw your cats in the window.
Little bug is turning eight today.
This is Miss F. at the Signal Hill National Historic Site in St. John’s.
I look at this photograph as I read, in complete disbelief, this story on the privately proposed monument to… well… I don’t know what in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. How is this even remotely possible is beyond me. I cannot imagine anything more un-Canadian than this monstrosity.
And so it is official now: Bojan Fürst, MA.
This is a photograph from a story on Wood Island, New Brunswick, reunion I did for CBC’s Maritime Noon many years ago and it kind of started this whole islands adventure. It’s been a great ride. If you are interested in seeing what my thesis ended up looking like scoot over to Islands of Sun and Ice page.
When I looked at the driver and even before we said a word to each other, there was a jolt of recognition, a sense of familiarity every immigrant sometimes feels – a genetic alarm telling you that the person in front of you hails from the more or less same ancestral pool. It is not necessarily a joyous feeling, rather a mix of caution and a hope that you might be able to exchange a greeting in a tongue that feels familiar and mysterious this far from its homeland. This cab driver, a Bosnian, and I got along alright. At some point, he pulled the card hanging on an elastic band from his rearview mirror and turned it towards me. And there was Marshal Tito, in all his uniformed glory, in a St. John’s cab. We laughed and he looked out at the snow buried streets and said: “And here we are.”
That was a few months ago. To tell you the truth, I forgot about that photograph. I just developed some film this past weekend and this photograph suddenly became more significant than if I looked at it a couple of months ago. In two weeks, we will be leaving for a much needed family vacation to Croatia. It’s a cause of great excitement. My older daughter has fond memories of a couple of visits she can remember. How could she not? When she is there, she is surrounded by people who genuinely love her and care about her and what is more, they get to see her so rarely that they are willing to fulfill her every wish. That is certainly not how her parents treat her. For the younger one, this is the adventure of her life so far – she is looking forward to almost two months of firsts: a first plane ride, a first train ride, a first trip abroad, and the first visit to grandparents who last saw her when she was a gurgling bundle of diapers and blankets. Above all else, for my daughters, Croatia is a place of madcap stories, odd relatives, happy childhoods and magical beauty. It is that because of me. I am the one who over the years created that narrative and now, as I read yet another surreal article about the rise of nationalism, poisonous catholicism, and glorification of the country’s fascist past I feel guilty about it. I feel I lied to them. I never told them about this other Croatia rapidly unfolding over the last few months on the screen of my laptop.
This Croatia is a country whose nationalists seemingly read Orwell’s essays on nationalism and totalitarianism not as a warning, but a how-to manual for achieving a supreme state of paranoia, xenophobia and the hatred of everybody and everything that is not Croatian. “Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered,” wrote Orwell and Croatian nationalists took it to heart. From nazi salutes at football games to wilful blindness when it comes to the horrendous record of the Croatian nazi collaborators, to fascist movements, to Marshall Tito and five decades of socialism, Croatian nationalists are re-imagining history busily following Orwell’s advice that for nationalists: “…history is something to be created rather than learned.”
And it’s not just history. As the economic recession drags on and the number of the unemployed stays stubbornly high, as those who can leave the country in search of a better life somewhere else, leave, the range of issues that sends nationalists frothing at the mouth is growing: homosexual and reproductive rights are out, misogyny is in, asylum seekers are not welcome, anything to do with science and technology – from vaccines to large hadron collider – is suspicious, Catholic Church is trustworthy, and every crackpot conspiracy theory makes perfect sense to them. After all, Orwell said that “totalitarianism […] in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.”
And so what am I to say to my daughters about this place we are going to? That their worth will be measured by how they look because the opportunities for women in a society overrun by rabid nationalism glorifying violence and subscribing to a bizarre version of fundamental catholicism are non-existent? That nobody will say a word of encouragement to a 12-year-old who is writing her first novel? That the 8-year-old’s ambition to become a chef will be laughed at? That just by virtue of having this cocktail of Austro-Hungarian, Scottish, French and Cree genes running through their veins they are less then perfect? And, maybe worst of all, that their parents are antifascists and humanists who find the crassness and futility of cheap nationalism as scary as it is repugnant?
“And here we are,” as the cab driver would say.
We will go first to an island. Small islanders everywhere still know how to live. After that, we’ll thread carefully. We are going to see a Rodin exhibit and we’ll spend a lot of time with grandma and grandpa discovering some old recipes that have been in the family for generations. We’ll build some memories and strengthen family ties. We’ll hike in the countryside and visit some rural places. We’ll sunbathe and swim in crystal clear waters. We’ll read lots of books. Hopefully, all of it will serve as a bit of an inspiration to a budding novelist and a beginner chef. And I am sure we will have conversations about poverty and unemployment, and what it does to people. And we’ll talk about nationalism and fascism.
And most of all I hope that we will also make some new stories – the family kind we can all share with friends and hopefully they will be just as crazy as those I told to my kids already.
I am not sure where the last year went. Lots of changes. We moved to a place that allows me to have a darkroom, a tiny darkroom, but still a darkroom. I can already develop film, but making prints will take a bit more engineering to figure out how turn the whole operation vertical rather than horizontal. This should also mean that I now have no excuse not to submit something to a few competitions I have been consistently missing deadlines of for the past six years.
I turned 40. I finished my thesis – although I am still waiting to hear whether or not I actually met the requirements for my MA. So not a bad year all in all. Let’s see what this one brings along.
The photo was made on Change Islands this past summer.
What would Christmas time in Newfoundland be without Mummers’ Parade? The last year’s parade was brutally cold. The batteries in my Zeiss Ikon froze twice. This year, it was unseasonably warm with light rain. Still, loads of fun…
Miss F. is 12 today. Time flies. The sisters are here on Change Islands last summer.
I think it was a taxi driver in St. John’s who told me that summer in Newfoundland takes place on July 23 – in the afternoon. Well this summer has sure made that old joke irrelevant. We have been enjoying a marvellous summer – hot and sunny and so unlike a Newfoundland summer that everybody you meet is looking at you puzzled wondering, now that they have been to the beach and had an ice cream, what else are they supposed to do with this endless string of summer days.
The summer started right, too – with a trip to Change Islands. I almost never use colour film, but for some reason I decided to do so on this trip and I am glad I did. The ponies in the photographs are part of the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Refuge, an amazing community initiative spearheaded by passionate Netta LeDrew. She has so many stories about each and every horse in her care and about the community who is always there to support her and her efforts to save a truly unique aspect of Newfoundland heritage.
And for the photography geeks among you: the film is Kodak Ektar and the camera is a YashicaMAT 124G.
The waves hitting Middle Cove beach were alive with writhing of small silvery fish spawning and washing ashore – capelin’s last act of defiance before the inevitable death. As people, whales, and birds flocked to the cove there was a frenzied sense of joy in the air – a feast from the sea freely given to all with a belly to fill.
Newfoundland has been our home for six years, but somehow we always missed the rolling of capelin. Not this year. We were not prepared exactly – we had no nets or buckets or even plastic bags to catch the sea’s bounty in. We came for a stroll along the beach and I only hoped that the capelin might be there as well.
The weather was right – capelin weather – a rainy, cloudy and foggy late June day. And there they were. All over the beach, there were trampled bodies of fish and excited men and women and children – many of them Newfoundlanders born and bred, but also newcomers from every corner of the world who came to watch this small annual miracle and partake in a tradition of their new home.
It did not matter that we were woefully unprepared because this is Newfoundland, after all, so an older couple quickly filled a plastic bag for us and there was really no way to refuse the generosity of the people and the sea. And why would you – there was plenty for all of us.
Every face had a smile and the fires were lit on the beach. People gathered to watch the little silvery fish and the minke whales gorging themselves in the cove. It was truly a perfect moment.
I made a few photographs. It wasn’t really difficult. People were happy to be photographed, to engage in conversation, and some even asked to look at the TLR’s ground glass.
Unfortunately, even Newfoundland has its tactless ingrates. Standing on the beach, sporting a fluorescent vest you usually see on road workers, was a man with a drone. Until that moment, I felt pretty agnostic about camera drones and gave them little thought. Well, not any more. Whatever this is, it is not photography and it is certainly not documentary photography. It says volumes about that day that, despite the thing buzzing around our heads and swooping down on the crowds of people who were never asked, engaged or otherwise made aware of the man and his toy, nobody took a rock and knocked the bloody thing out of the air. It was invasive, rude, and if the reactions of those on that beach who came from less fortunate places in the world are anything to go by, it was also frightening. Everybody I photographed and engaged in conversation with that day frowned at the white drone and its annoying buzz. There was no escape from it and no way to say no. Once the man in the vest packed up and left, people visibly relaxed.
There is no sense in arguing against this technology. That ship has sailed and we are all going to have to learn to live with it. It is, however, disheartening that many of my former photojournalism colleagues are embracing the drones as if they are some sort of a technological breakthrough. This is not going to result in better journalism. Good photojournalism was always about storytelling. This has nothing to do with storytelling, compassion or genuine curiosity about people and places. This is pure gimmickry for talentless hacks – sort of like HDR photography, just worse.
So a fair warning: next time that thing buzzes around my head, I may or may not be as restrained as I was on that June day with the capelin miraculously rolling on Middle Cove beach.
Little Miss F. is seven today. Seven! When her big sister turned seven some years back, as a practical joke, I told her that it is an ancient Croatian tradition that a child for her seventh birthday gets a list of chores she is expected to do. Today, almost five years later, she reminded me of that and told me she will always consider that list as one of her birthday presents…
A family photo in honour of Day 2 of single parenthood. We miss our fabulously smart researcher currently exploring rural Newfoundland.
Some time ago, during a very short conversation with Dr. Robert Finley, he made a remark I have been thinking about ever since. He said that every family photo album is, in fact, an oral history. I like that – a lot.