Photographs, words and sounds
Saint John

On immigration…


I am about to write something I promised myself I will never write.

A friend in Saint John, New Brunswick, who runs an interesting little media company called WickedIdeas, posted on her Facebook account a story about the provincial government urging everybody who has something to say about what New Brunswick can do to attract and retain immigrants to do so. I had this post in me for a long time, but I always thought that maybe I am holding too much of a grudge and that the time is not right to air all of it. But, since they asked, I’ll oblige.

We lived in New Brunswick for eight years. We moved there as starry-eyed newlyweds after driving across the country in a 1973 volkswagen SuperBeetle. It was older than either of us, rusty and packed to the roof with everything we owned including a bicycle. We drove for over 4,000 kilometres from Calgary all the way to Bathurst and we did not even have a shoe string budget. Probably the craziest thing we ever did.

Bathurst was an eyeopener in many ways and not good ones. I worked for an insane editor who did not dare to bully me, but he did bully everybody else. That is not what made us move. What made us move was the fact that my wife had rocks thrown at her as she walked down a path because she was an “English bitch” as one of the charming young men called after her. We moved because after we went to Youghall Beach on a Sunday with a pressman and his fiancé, I was summoned into my darkroom by his foreman who warned me not to socialize with those people because their class status is below mine. We moved because people called daily to ask my editor why he hired a foreigner and not a local person.

We lasted six months and than we moved to Saint John. It was better. We both had jobs and we made some friends – come-from-aways like us mostly, but not all. Those of our New Brusnwick friends, and you know who you are, you have no idea what your friendship meant to us because it was such an exception.

Our first daughter was born two years after we moved to Saint John. I came to work a couple of days later and the person working in the office next to mine walked in. She did not offer her congratulations. She did not ask about my wife and the baby. What she said was: “You know it takes three generations to become a Maritimer?”

Every once in a while I would get a call at work from somebody ranting against immigrants. My favourite was a lady from St. Martins who called me at the charity I worked for because she thought we helped a little boy from Afghanistan get a heart surgery in Canada that saved his life. Unfortunately, that good deed had nothing to do with us, but it did not stop her from telling me that all those dirty immigrants are just coming to take local jobs, if not outright steal from honest New Brunswickers.

My wife was an investigative reporter at a daily who had her work belittled and stolen by those who hired her. When she broke a major story implicating local businessmen and politicians in an immigration scam, she was told that she does not understand local business culture, being from away and all that. She was told not to write anything longer than 500 words without a special permission.

Our second daughter was born. Then the government canceled Early French Immersion program effectively denying educational opportunities to our children. That was in many ways the last straw.

On top of that, my wife’s workplace became downright abusive. At that point, I freelanced full time. I could get work for  Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian in the UK as well as on national and regional CBC programs, but not locally.

Our friends were experiencing the same brick walls of nepotism and cliquishness we faced. They started moving away. And so did we.

Let me tell you about our very first day in Newfoundland. We’ve never been to St. John’s or to Newfoundland and we did not know a soul here. That first day we went for a walk downtown to find the French immersion school our daughter was going to attend. We found it and liked it. We walked down King’s Road towards Duckworth Street when this grizzled old man ran out of his house and yelled: “Wait, wait, wait…” We were rooted to the spot not quite sure what the heck is going on – our five-year old standing beside us and the one-year old in a stroller. The old man came back carrying a giant polar teddy bear and he said: “I won this in a raffle once. I’ve been waiting for a little girl to pass by so I could give it to her. So, here you go.” My older daughter, hugging this teddy bear almost as big as she was, was speechless and so were we. I would stop and chat with this man sometimes after we moved into that neighbourhood – he did not remember I was the dad of the girl he gave that polar bear to a year ago. I am not sure he even remembered the incident. It was just something he did. I know his name. I know he would have preferred if Newfoundland became a US state rather than a Canadian province. I even made a photograph of him once.

There were many such incidents.

My wife wrote a story for Toronto Star on storytelling tradition in Newfoundland and for that story she interviewed actor Andy Jones – the same way she interviewed hundreds of people in New Brunswick. A month or two later, it was a Sunday and we were walking to Sobeys to pick something up around 2 p.m. when Andy came out of his house and said: “Come in, come in. I have a new puppy. The girls would love to see him.” We left close to midnight that evening after a dinner and an afternoon and evening filled with stories and laughter.

Of course, there have been terrible moments here. We had professional disappointments. We had a nasty landlord. We had a leaky roof and a wasp nest under the clapboards. We had a drug dealer on our street, but we worked with our neighbours and we made the neighbourhood safe again. Childcare has been hard to organize, and housing and food are expensive and there are days in March when you wish to be anywhere else but on this rock in the middle of the North Atlantic. And then a friend comes over and you have a cup of tea or mulled wine and you forget that the wind is blowing at 130km/h and the uncanny mix of rain, snow and ice is falling sideways as usual.

We’ve been here five years. People ask me every day where I am from. They don’t ask because they are angry I have a job, but because they want to fit me into the master narrative of this place or, if I am on Change Islands or Fogo Island, they simply want to know what is that my people fish. That’s what they are like, these Newfoundlanders. They somehow learned how to take what they like and share what they have with those who come from just about anywhere. They will teach you how to make fishcakes in exchange for a Mediterranean fish soup recipe or simply for a good story. They are comfortable with who they are, so they let you be who you are.

If New Brunswick wants to attract immigrants, New Brunswickers will have to make peace with who they are. They have to stop being paranoid about everybody and everything. The world is not out to get you, although there are some very rich folks among you you should keep a better eye on.

Immigrants are not some exotic species of a bird that you can attract by planting the right kind of a tree. You have to accept that we are no different than you. We are not less human than you or more entrepreneurial or smarter or dumber or better or worse educated. We want the same things you do: good neighbours, safe streets, jobs, decent housing, good schools that give our children an opportunity to be the best they can be. We may not speak perfect English or prefect French, but we might speak Croatian, or Urdu, or Farsi, or German, or Dutch, or Mandarin or any other of the hundreds of languages out there in the world. Make us feel like there is a place for us and we will share everything we have with you and be just as passionate about your province and your communities as you are even if we are not third generation Maritimers and even if our family did not come to New Brunswick shores on the first Loyalist ship or during the terrible tragedy that was the expulsion of Acadians. We will volunteer and contribute to our new communities if you give us a chance to build some stability in our lives without feeling like permanent outsiders because we have accents, darker skin, or sometimes wear funny clothes. Don’t expect all of us to be entrepreneurs – most of you are not. Some of us will be entrepreneurs, others will be teachers, and potters, and photographers, and chefs, and some of us will sell delicious samosas at the City Market.

What you do need to understand, though, is that treating us like outsiders even when we spend years trying to make New Brunswick home will make us leave and we will never come back.

My family, we miss our New Brunswick friends. We miss the City Market and the skywalk and the library and the museum and the Buskers’ Festival and every June our older daughter talks about the fair and the rides at the Harbour Station. We miss Canada Day and New Year’s fireworks over the harbour – they don’t do fireworks quite as well here. We miss our landlady terribly. She was like a grandmother to our kids. She was an immigrant, too and her kids are only first generation Maritimers so not yet a real deal, I guess. What we don’t miss are petty snubs, blatant nepotism and constant reminder that we are not part of the place we chose to call home.

If you want immigrants from abroad and from other parts of Canada, you will first and foremost need to be kind. It will make an enormous difference.


Street photography

It seems that some sanity is slowly returning to the UK’s approach to photography. In 2009, a court ruled that it is indeed fine for parents to take pictures of their own children during school events. And just recently, after a vigorous campaign led by UK photographers, the Clause 43, dealing with orphan photographic works, was removed from the Digital Economy Bill before it was adopted as the Digital Economy Act. That’s all good news. Street photography, however, remains under threat, not just in the UK, but in many other countries including some places in Canada.

Consider the City of Ottawa transit system guidelines on what constitutes suspicious activity. Among other things: “An individual taking photos or pictures in a location that has no particular interest, drawing maps or sketches, taking notes or wandering in the same location for an unusually long time.” Just look at that definition. Who determines what’s interesting to me? How long is unusually long? Drawing maps? Hello Google Earth. Sketching? Seriously?

The Times reporter Richard Woods catalogues a disturbing number of cases of harassed photographers in London alone. It’s a story worth reading.

Recently, I’ve bought a book featuring Eugène Atget’s photographs of Paris taken between 1857 and 1927 – a remarkable record of people, architecture and street life. No wonder that Berenice Abbott, herself a prolific street photographer, admired the man’s work so much.

Street photography has a long and venerable tradition. Some time ago, I wrote for Dubai-based Soura magazine that street photography captures its subjects in simple, every-day situations and because there is no pretentiousness in what it does, it is easy for the audience to recognize characters and emotions that can be easily transposed over their own reality. Human emotions and the spectrum of urban life tend to be remarkably similar across time and space.

A couple of years later, I believe that to be true more than ever. Remarkable photographs by people like Atget, Abbott, Helen Levitt, Croatian Tošo Dabac, Robert Doisneau and many, many photographers from around the world teach us that wherever you are people laugh, play and mourn in the same way.

It is probably not surprising that street photography is under threat. Our urban landscapes have changed dramatically and have largely lost that public aspect of everyday life that made the urban vibrant. Helen Levitt commented on it in an interview for the New York Times in 2002. “The streets were crowded with all kinds of things going on, not just children. Everything was going on in the street in the summertime. They didn’t have air-conditioning. Everybody was out on the steps, sitting outside, on chairs… Now the streets are empty. People are indoors looking at television or something,” she said.

Pauline Hadaway, director of Belfast Exposed gallery echoes those comments in Woods’ story. “It’s not just about photography,” she says. “I think it’s about how we all relate to one another. We are losing the ability to negotiate with strangers. Everyone seems to be afraid of everyone else, particularly where children are involved. I don’t think anyone would ever just walk out on the street now with a camera as they might have done five or six years ago. It’s firmly planted in your head that you are doing something that is potentially problematic. Once it is in your mind, it becomes an issue.”

The photograph above was made quite some time ago during the Canada Day street sale in Saint John, New Brunswick in 2008. Saint John is one of the few places in Canada that, to some extend, retains that sense of street life in its Uptown core. That is pretty much the only thing I miss about the place.

Croatian word of the day: ulica street [oo lee tza]


Reggie’s closes

A friend on facebook just announced that Reggie’s closed (it’s facebook, so take that with a grain of salt). Reggie’s was a small diner on Germain street in Saint John, New Brunswick. A truly unique place. Miss F and I (and, eventually, Little Miss F as well) made it a family tradition to walk down for a Sunday breakfast at Reggie’s. I have a lot of memories associated with that place.There was a little old fashioned high chair with Winnie the Pooh carved on it’s back that both girls thought of as their own.

Sometime in 2005 I took a series of photographs in Reggie’s that eventually became a multimedia piece you can see above.

Saint John is a strange place. It doesn’t really have much going for it, but it sort of grows on you. Reggie’s is one of the reasons I will always feel that Saint John is home.

Croatian word of the day: tuga sorrow


[Old Blog] More tearsheets…

More tearsheets… Again, in collaboration with my significant other, we found a good home for a set of corner store pictures. The current issue of Saltscapes magazine is running a SIX (6) page spread. This makes my Holga the most profitable piece of gear I have 😉

Croatian word of the day: sreća happiness (but also luck) [sre cha]


[Old Blog] Wedding, teething

Another wedding photograph.

Little Miss F. has been teething for the past three or four nights. Today I have operate purely on caffein. I have no idea how my significant other managed to do everything she did today…

Croatian word of the day: zub tooth


[Old Blog] I don’t do weddings, except these two…

I don’t do weddings. Not for friends and not for family – especially not for family. There are many reasons why I don’t do weddings, but, if I am honest, it really boils down to one thing. In order to be a photojournalist you need to be a decent person. In order to be a good wedding photographer you have to be a very nice person indeed, an I am simply not that nice. How did I end up doing two weddings this year is something that even I can’t explain, except that Janelle and Gary and Anne and David are really, really nice people. This photo is from Janelle’s and Gary’s wedding which had a Hollywood theme and was fun. Some of you may remember Gary from a while back – that’s how long Janelle kept my business card, so how could I ever refuse. I’ll post more photos over the next few days. In the process of completing Janelle’s and Gary’s package, I also developed a strong dislike for Canada Post.

Croatian word of the day: vjenčanje wedding [vien cha nie]


[Old Blog] Saint John Jewish Community, photographs from Israel

This is a snapshot of the interior of the Saint John synagogue. The sound is a Maritime Magazine piece I did about a month ago and never posted for unknown reasons. The piece is about 18 minutes long.

Israel is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. There are not many places in the world that have been as extensively photographed in the past six decades. Here is a collection of some recent as well as older work by various photographers. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list:

CBC’s slideshow The Birth of Israel.
Micha Bar Am’s book Israel: A Photobiography.
Rina Castelnuouvo’s work for New York Times on Israel’s Arabs is here.
Yoav Galai’s work on Palestinian life in East Jerusalem.
Larry Towell’s book Then Palestine and a multimedia feature by Paolo Pellegrin on the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Croatian word of the day: sukob conflict

[NOTE]: Sorry about the wonky sound. Everything is wonky on this machine. I’ll try to fix it.

[OLD BLOG:] Neil McKelvey

“I caught the tail end of it. Not really much to tell,” claims Mr. McKelvey. He served ‘only’ in Holland and as a member of the Canadian Occupation Force in Germany. After a couple of years overseas, he continued with his original plan – he became a lawyer. “I knew I wanted to be I lawyer in high school. There was really nothing else,” he says. The war interrupted his plans. “It was the thing to do. There was also excitement about it. A lot of people were enlisting and everybody was trying to figure out why the hell I wasn’t in it. So I joined.”
It takes a bit of prodding before Mr. McKelvey divulges a bit more information. He has practiced virtually every form of law you can imagine for the simple reason that a lawyer in 1949 needed to be able to do everything. Later he specialized in Labour Law and after that in Civil Litigation. He also volunteered with some legal organizations. After a bit more urging, he recalled that he was also a President of the Canadian Bar Association. It also turned out that he was the first Canadian President of the International Bar Association as well. When asked about the book of memoirs he wrote, which can be seen in the lobby, he waves his hand dismissively: “Oh that, yes. A couple of people asked me to write my memoirs so I did. It took me two years. Afterwards I found a lot of things that I could have put in it. I could probably write another one.” I was just about to leave when I noticed, hidden in the corner of the office behind a plant, a framed Order of Canada bearing Mr. McKelvey’s name. He claims he does not remember the citation. The Governor General’s website is not nearly so modest. According to Her Excellency’s office, Mr. McKelvey was honoured as the Officer of the Order of Canada as “The only Canadian President of the International Bar Association, this distinguished member of the New Brunswick Bar [who] has contributed to the legal profession at all levels.” He tried 21 cases at the Supreme Court of Canada. Today, he also serves on the Board of Governors at Dalhousie University.






[Old Blog] Entry 105

I am 30 today. It was a quiet birthday – just the way I prefer it. I don’t feel much of anything really. If anything, I am more sure than ever of what I want to do. We’ll see what the next year brings.

These are Bibles stacked up at the back pew of Saint James Anglican Church on Broad Street. This is still part of the same wedding in the South End.

Major snowstorm here so the last couple of days were perfect for reading and playing computer games.

Just downloaded OpenOffice. It works quite nicely.

For the past two days I have been listening to the news about the earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. Terrible tragedy.

[Old Blog] Entry 104

This is another South End image.

A German newspaper decided to change its tune, at least during the holidays.

Merry Christmas to all of you!

[Old Blog] Entry 103

Back to my South End project. This photo was taken last October, but i just got around to scanning. The Saint James Anglican Church where this wedding took place is one of many churches in the city facing almost imminent closure due to ever smaller congregations. A wedding such as this one is almost an exception these days. A third generation of South End families has tied a knot in the same church and they have every reason to celebrate…

Christmas is approaching and many of us are feeling generous and happy to share what we have with those less fortunate around us. Please remember that food banks and soup kitchens need your help in the months following the holiday season more than at any other period of the year. Every little bit helps. In France they do it with style.

I honestly don’t know how I would ever do my job without Google. Here is an interesting take on Google’s recent attempt at building a super on-line library.

And speaking of archiving, had an interesting thread on photo archives that came to mind after reading the previous story. I still shoot film which makes archiving easy, but D20 looks really, really appealing.

[Old Blog] Entry 102

Artists and his art… There are more tattoo parlors in Saint John than I care to count, but the one on King Street is probably the nicest in town. It was freezing cold when I took this shot in November…

This is funny. Bernard Lord is the Premier of the Province of New Brunswick, for those of you who have absolutely no reason to know that.

And this is what our best friend and neighbour thinks of us? Sheesh!

[Old Blog] Entry 101

This is another Symphony New Brunswick photo. I scanned some of the images I initially missed. Tearsheets are in my official portfolio page for those interested.

One of the faithful local visitors to this blog is Joe Godin who is an activist and big promoter of urban cycling. He now has his own blog exploring possible network of bicycle trails in Greater Saint John area.

Here is one of the blogs I read regularly. It’s really more of a sporadic column than a blog, but it’s still a good read.

And Bush Administration wants Canada to join this thing. Why would anybody in their right mind do that is beyond me.

I am a great admirer of Magnum but this is the ultimate Christmas spoiler 🙁

[Old Blog] Entry 100

There is nothing really remarkable about Silver Falls. Except, they are located right behind the largest oil refinery in Canada and they are clean. So clean in fact, that there is brown trout in the water. The falls are perfect example of what Saint John fresh waters could look like if we could stop dumping garbage and human waste into them.

Here is the assortment of environmental links for the day. The Arctic is, as always, the best predictor of what is coming. And if you don’t trust the science of climate change, how about the people who live there and are struggling with cultural implications of this environmental disaster in the making.

And as if climate change is not enough… Remember this?

[Old Blog] Entry 99

Saint Johners do like their rivers. Dominion Park Beach on the West Side is a beautiful spot on Saint John River. Family outings such as this one in late September are common throughout the summer.

This is really cool. I mean ion engines, interplanetary cruise – it’s just cool.

[Old Blog] Entry 98

Research boat and buoys in Saint John Harbour.

Here is a collection of links for the day:

Asian Times take on Fallujah. The rhetoric is identical to that of Yugoslav Army “liberating” the city of Vukovar in Croatia. This is what it looked like after its inhabitants were “liberated.”

This spells trouble for all of us eventually. Instead of Italian, I think I should get myself into Mandarin classes- in the long term it’s going to be a lot more useful.

Sex ed Texas styleThe local paper here and the letters to the editor are advocating emphasize on abstinence rather than providing actually useful information as well. There is, however, an interesting study (watch out it’s a .pdf) that has been done recently with some encouraging results.

And on the technical side of things – my favorite web browser is now officially launched. You can download it here if you ever manage to get through.

[Old Blog] Entry 97

ACAP volunteers are clearing Tin Can Beach at the tip of the Central Peninsula – as far south as you can go in the South End. This annual beach cleanup has been a great success story. Not only because an amazing amount of garbage is removed from the city’s beaches, but because every year, as more and more people participate, there is less and less garbage around to begin with.

My posts here have been rather sporadic. This is really busy time at work and I have been trying to expand my freelancing outside of the local market. No word yet on any of those efforts. I’ll try to be stoic about it. As a character in José Saramago’s novel The Cave points out: “There are some things that will happen only the day after tomorrow.”

[Old Blog] Entry 96

Dr. Methven with a baby dogfish. This sucker will grow to be quite a monster.

And this is where I come from.

[Old Blog] Entry 95

Here is the first of my boat trip shots. It’s really an exaggeration to call it a trip. I started working on a photo essay on the ambivalent relationship between Saint Johners and the surrounding waters. One of the first things that people here will tell you is that they live “right on the water.” They are very proud of shipbuilding, fishing and port heritage and deservedly so. This is, however, a place where you can find some of the most polluted waters in Canada.

Saint John is an industrial city with an oil refinery, pulp mills, power generation plants, large port… you name it and it’s here.

However, the most pressing problem, as far as city’s waters go, are the Saint Johners themselves. More than half of city’s wastewater is poured into the harbour untreated. There are places where you can see toilet paper, condoms and various hygienic products floating in the brown mush in what amounts to open sewers. Just to illustrate my point: a sample of 100ml of water that contains 200 fecal bacteria is considered unsafe for human contact. This summer, 100 ml of Marsh Creek (right behind my office) contained 7.8 million fecal bacteria. So, yes, it’s bad and it’s going to get worse if something is not done.

Local environmental agencies such as Atlantic Coastal Action Plan and University of New Brunswick in Saint John are monitoring and researching waters from around the city to determine the best plan of action.

This is a photo of Dr. Methven from the UNBSJ who, with the help from local fishermen, is trying to find out what kind of fish species live in the harbour and their migratory patters.

[Old Blog] Entry 94

Here you can find an interesting and quite beautiful photograph whose author raised some questions about digital manipulation. As the luck would have it I was just reading this review of an art exhibit at Hammer Museum at UCLA and I though I’ll post both links here.

Yes, I know ANOTHER Symphony New Brunswick photo…

[Old Blog] Entry 93

This is Peggy Smith. She has been painting the Symphony for over 20 years. Her brilliant watercolours capture perfectly the fleeting notes of the music performed on the stage. She is very, very fast. We joked that she is almost as fast with her brush as I am with my camera.

Please visit Magnum’s website and the Paul Fusco’s photo essay on the grieving families of American soldiers who died in Iraq. The images will make your heart ache as they should.

[Old Blog] Entry 92

Symphony New Brunswick… Almost done, I promise…

[Old Blog] Entry 91

Symphony New Brunswick…

Here is something truly original and amusing (in a sad, twisted sort of way).

[Old Blog] Entry 90

Trumpet player from Symphony New Brunswick. Here is a longish quote from something I am reading…

The fear I am speaking of is not, of course, to be taken in the ordinary psychological sense as a definite, precise emotion. Most of those we see around are not quaking like aspen leaves; they wear faces of confident, self-satisfied citizens. We are concerned with fear in a deeper sense, an ethical sense if you will, namely, the more or less conscious participation in the collective awareness of a permanent and ubiquitous danger; anxiety about what is being, or might be, endangered, becoming gradually used to this threat as a substantive part of the actual world; the increasing degree to which, in an ever more skillful and matter-of-fact way, we go in for various kinds of external adaptation as the only effective method of self-defence…The question arises, of course, what are people actually afraid of? Trials? Torture? Loss of property? Deportations? Executions? Certainly not. The most brutal forms of pressure exerted by the authorities upon the public are, fortunately, past history – at least in our circumstances…

Notoriously, it is not the absolute value of a threat which counts, so much as its relative values…For there is no one in our country who is not, in a broad sense, existentially vulnerable. Everyone has something to lose and so everyone has reason to be afraid…

People are thinking today far more of themselves, their homes and their families… They fill their homes with all kinds of equipment and pretty things, they try to raise their housing standards, they make life agreeable for themselves, building cottages, looking after their cars, taking more interest in their food and clothing and domestic comfort. In short, they turn their main attention to the material aspects of their private lives….

The authorities welcome and support this spill-over of energy into the private sphere.

But why? Because of its favorable effects as a stimulus to economic growth? Certainly that is one reason…. They see it for what it really is in its psychological origins: an escape from the sphere of public activity.

In the foreground, then, stands the imposing façade of great humanistic ideas and behind it crouches the modest family house…on the one side, bombastic slogans about the unprecedented increase of every sort of freedom an the unique structural variety of life; on the other side, unprecedented drabness and the squalor of life reduced to a hunt for consumer goods.

That was Václav Havel writing about communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1975.