BOJAN'S BLOG

Photographs, words and sounds
Admin notes

International Workers’ Day

Happy International Workers’ Day comrades.

The photo above was made in Bologna, Italy a few weeks back. I’ll leave you with Billy Bragg.

Do we really care about art?

For the past week, I’ve been in Bologna, Italy, for a series of meetings and workshops. It was only on Saturday that I had a free afternoon and used the opportunity to see something of that gorgeous city. The timing was pretty good. There was an exhibit on the work of Hugo Pratt and his famous graphic novel character Corto Maltese; a show featuring over 200 less well known works of Salvador Dalí; and an exhibit of Mexican 20th century art featuring works of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others.

The photo above is the scene in front of the Palazzo Albergati. It’s a queue of people waiting to get into the gallery to see the Mexican art exhibit. It would take hours to get in, hours I didn’t have, so I decided to skip it and see as much as I could. I did manage to get into Palazzo Belloni after only about half an hour wait in line with elderly couples, students, families, and even a bunch of sketchy looking skeets all eager to see the Dalí exhibit.

Next time when the government cuts arts funding or removes culture from the name of the department that is supposed to help us create more of it -and it surely will- as we raise hell, we should also ask ourselves why is nobody lining up in front of our galleries. In what ways have we failed and allowed art to become irrelevant to so many outside of the art circle? We need more than just money, we desperately need a public that cares. How we get there is mostly up to us, but it may require a braver, less self-referential and more engaging art.

On a lighter note, you should also know that the Italians line up for ice cream confirming my lifelong belief that good ice cream is indistinguishable from good art.

Rural Routes episode on immigration in rural Canada

A new episode of Rural Routes is up!

A neglected podcast and a neglected blog. Ha! Much of my work time these days is taken up by proposal writing, negotiating, and administrative tasks. It feels a lot less productive than creating content and developing ideas on how to translate academic research into something that can be of use to people outside the university bubble. Rural Routes podcasts have certainly been one of those experiments that have exceeded any expectations I originally had. It feels good to be working on that project again.

This new episode features the work of Dr. Michael Haan from the Western University in London, Ontario on immigration in Canadian context, especially in rural Canada. Have a listen.

The photo is from a recent celebration at our friends place here in St. John’s. The amount of talent around that table is ridiculous.

Exhibit in Bonavista

IMG_2577

Remember I said I had more announcements? If you are in Newfoundland and Labrador and are planning a trip to Boavista, stop at the Ryan Premises National Historic Site. Some of the prints from the Small Islands series are on display there together with amazing work by Michael Pittman, Robert McNair, Cynthia Kremerer and several others. The show is a part of the 2016 Bonavista ArtWalk. The show is up until September 5.

Beautiful Bonavista and an iPhone 5s photo.

New website!

1606-StJohns025

I am full of announcements this week and not even done yet. The next in line is the announcement of a new ‘professional’ website. Now, I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am not a professional artist so, you know, it is what it is.

There was an earlier version of the website that a lot of smart and helpful friends looked at and made some great suggestions. I accidentally deleted that site (very thoroughly, I might add) so this is a professional website for an unprofessional artist 2.0 and I have to say I am much happier with it. It is much better for all the comments, suggestions, and critique that the poor, disappeared 1.0 version was subjected to. There are still some suggestions that I would like to implement in the future, but I thought I’d launch what I have rather than wait until it’s “perfect.”

And for all the joking about being told that I am not a professional artist, that is certainly true. And so the tagline on the site is actually something I feel is much more appropriate and much closer to how I feel about the photography I do.

And of course, feel free to offer comments, critiques, or anything else you feel like dishing out.

A chemistry lesson for inept photo geeks like me…

1603-StJohns001

So apparently I’ve been an idiot for the past 20 years. Every time I develop film or make prints I also develop a rather nasty case of dermatitis. It’s not contagious, just uncomfortable and bad for me, and aesthetically – well, let’s just say I’d understand if you didn’t want to shake hands with me and were wondering why I am not in some sort of quarantine.

It turns out, broadly, that there are two kinds of photo developers. There are those developers that use metol as a developing agent and those developers that use phenidone as a developing agent. Well guess what… Most developers I use are metol-based and metol is a known cause of dermatitis. Phenidone-based developers, on the other hand, tend not to cause skin reaction. So all I have to do is switch to a phenidone-based developer and I am good to go. And it gets better: phenidone is a much more potent developer than metol so you can make more of a working solution with less chemicals. It’s significantly more environmentally friendly and some of phenidone-based developers, like Kodak Xtol, are practically hypoallergenic. Arghhh…

So why do I suddenly know all this? Because I was asked to work with a team of researchers here at Memorial University as their artist-in-residence-kind-of-person. I was researching developers to understand what could happen if we add certain unusual components to different developers and in the process learned something I wish I knew 20 years ago. I have no idea what is that this collaboration is going to look like or produce, but it should be fun.

The photo was made earlier this year when Little Miss F. and I went for a photo walk and yes, she is using film 😉

Rural Routes

IMG_1816

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.

Thirteen

1506-Vis080

Miss F. turned thirteen today. So ridiculously proud of the young woman she is becoming.

The end of a journey

0808-WoodIsland015

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.

Tito in a St. John’s cab

1501-TitoinTaxi002

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.

Perfect combination

051325-street029

Apologies in advance for analog photographer geek post. I am in love with HP5+ exposed at 1600 ISO and developed in Rodinal at 1:50 concentration at 20ºC for 24 minutes. I love everything about it, which is really funny because I dislike HP5+. I really tried to like it at its stated 400 speed, but it just did not work for me. This – this is a whole other story. Over the past few weeks I’ve been experimenting with Blazinal developer, a Canadian version of famous Rodinal, one of the oldest photographic chemicals still in use. It was originally patented in 1891. It’s the stuff of legends. I tried so far Rodinal with HP5+, Pan F, Efke KB50, Delta 100, HP5+ at 100 ISO. I tried 1:25 dilution and 1:50 dilution and until I saw HP5+ at 1600 I was really not all that impressed to be honest. But this – wow.

On top are The Rooms. Bellow is Duckworth Street, Carter’s Hill, and lonely public phones at the University Centre.

051325-street024

 

051325-street019

 

051325-street027

Photographers, researchers, and librarians: A love story

1209-Springdale02

On Monday, I delivered the following presentation to the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association at their annual conference. This is a rough script – not 100% accurate.

Librarians.002

I am going to make one of those terrible presenter mistakes and start my talk with a disclaimer. In your programs, it says that I am manager of knowledge mobilization with The Harris Centre and that is true. Except, what I am going to say today has nothing to do with my work work and I am most certainly not speaking on behalf of the Harris Centre… Phew… What I am going to do is share quite a few photographs and a lot of personal opinion.

Librarians.003With that out of the way, let me thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today. It is actually quite rare for photographers to have a chance to speak to non-photographers… or anyone for that matter. To have a chance to speak to an audience of librarians, archivists and curators is indeed a special treat and I am grateful to Amanda for approaching me in the first place.

Librarians.004

I have only about 20 minutes, so there are going to be a lot of generalizations in the things I say today. I am sorry about that, but feel free to ask questions, email me or simply ask me to go out for a cup of coffee or a beer and I’ll be happy to talk your ear off with nuances of everything I am about to say.

Librarians.005I want to talk about three things that are, or at least should be, interlinked. I’d like to talk about photography as a research tool; photography as a communications tool; and the importance of photography collections and why I think that archivists, curators and librarians who understand photographs are incredibly important to us photographers, but also to researchers and society at large.

Librarians.006Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My original degree is in journalism. My photojournalism education left a lot to be desired. It was focused on news photography and sports and I would have never become a photographer if not for one assignment in my first year that, as clichéd as that sounds, changed my life. We were asked to write an essay about a photographer whose work we liked. I did not have a favourite photographer at that time so I did the only sensible thing – I went to a library. Calgary Public Library had, and for all I know still has, a decent collection of photography books on its ground floor.

Librarians.007There, I discovered a book of photographs by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof. Those photographs were a revelation. Nobody ever told me that as a photographer you can build a substantial, even exhaustive, body of work that goes well beyond a single news photograph. I did not think about it in those terms then, but what appealed to me was the fact that Werner Bischof was a photographer who was doing research – systematically investigating matters of interest.

Librarians.008Journalism and photojournalism as industries are in trouble these days although, I think, they suffer largely from self-inflicted wounds. Like many, I left the industry and had other jobs, but slowly started developing my own photo-research projects. I photographed my neighbourhood in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Librarians.009I photographed a crew of a tug boat,  city’s chefs, and city streets. I had this idea about working on a project about small islands. Eventually, I decided to give photojournalism another try so I worked full time as a freelancer for about a year.

Librarians.010This is my most published photograph from that year. This woman, whose maiden name was Weed, was not allowed to use her maiden name on the license plate of her new Mustang because New Brunswick government thought that it could be seen as promoting marijuana or something like that. The photograph was made for CanWest News and it was published in newspapers right across the country. For a year afterwards, when you googled my name, you would get a page of variations on this photo. I hated this photograph. To me, it was everything that was wrong with photojournalism – shallow, pointless and with no impact. But I still loved photography. And I still wanted to photograph small islands.

Librarians.011It so happened that five years ago, I had a chance to move to Newfoundland. Which was, obviously, great if you wanted to photograph islands. I turned portion of that idea about small islands into an MA project. My ethics approval did not allow for photographs of people so I reinvented myself as a landscape photographer.

Librarians.012As I was doing my research, photography was just a tiny part of it. Given the nature of my investigation, that was fine. However, as I built a collection of photographs from Croatia and Newfoundland, I started asking questions. Why do Newfoundlanders build with wood and Croatians with stone?

Librarians.013Why do houses in a Croatian fishing village stubbornly stick together, while houses in a Newfoundland fishing village spread themselves along the shore? Is it really just matter of climate or can we see here political, economic and social layers that create island identities?

Librarians.014With all those questions in my head I wanted to find out if I could make photography a bigger, or even the most important part of some future research project. This is where things got a bit strange.

Librarians.015Over the past 30 years, a rift seems to have opened between the academic research and those like me actually making photographs. On the academic side, we developed some pretty impressive ways to analyse photographs.

Librarians.016Dr. Gillian Rose has an excellent overview in a book called “Visual Methodologies.” She identified eight different kinds of analysis. They are: compositional interpretation, content analysis, semiology, discourse analysis I, discourse analysis II, audience studies, anthropological approach to photographs…

Librarians.017Each of these is useful in its own way as an analytical tool. If you wanted to analyse portraits of St. John’s residents in 1902, some of these would be very useful indeed. What they are not terribly useful for is actually creating a photographic body of work as a part of a research process. In fact, outside of how-to-books these days more concerned with digital editing techniques than actual photography, you will find very little about photography as a research practice. For that, you have to step across the divide and talk to photojournalists and documentary photographers. They, unfortunately, may not have time to talk.

Librarians.018They are caught between a horrendous mismanagement of the outlets they work for and unprecedented technological changes in their craft. They are trying to demonstrate the relevance of deliberate and thoughtful photography in today’s image saturated world and develop new forms of storytelling that will keep the viewers, and the advertisers, glued to real and virtual pages.

Librarians.019One thing both groups, the academics and the practitioners, have in common is their concern with ethics in photography. But even here we have a rift. Academic rules of institutional ethics are largely driven by universities’ desire to protect themselves from liability, while photographers’ concerns are much more nuanced they get completely lost in the current fight between the photographers and their employers over who actually owns photographers’ work.

Librarians.020The result of focus on liability among academic administrators is a virtual ban on creation of new photographic work within academic context. In fact, the “ethics creep” is now spilling over even into more mundane methods of academic research such as interview. Here at Memorial, you are advised by the ethics board not to ask questions that might upset the person you are having a conversation with. I am afraid that road leads directly to boring research that nobody cares about enough to even get upset by it. But I digress.

Librarians.021To summarize so far: We live surrounded by photographic material, more so than ever before. Yet, we have a situation where academic researchers are almost solely preoccupied with analysing other peoples’ work. There is no concern with the actual creation of new photographic documentary material and we do not teach the actual craft of photography at all as part of our methodology classes – not even in visual methodologies. In fact, in this country, through the ethics process, we made it nearly impossible to engage in photographic practice as a valid research method.

Librarians.022Depriving ourselves of a research tool is only a part of the problem. We are also denying ourselves an excellent communications tool and, to use a phrase tossed so lightly these days, an engagement tool. Let me explain what I mean with a historical reference and a personal story.

Librarians.023The most extensive, deliberately created collection of documentary photographs anywhere in the world is about 80 years old. To this day, the work of Farm Security Administration photographers such as Dorothea Lang, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, under the directorship of Roy Stryker remains unchallenged. Their work still inspires debate about the Great Depression and still serves as a bar many a documentary photographer aims for. We are incredibly lucky here in Newfoundland and Labrador to have, in the Fogo Process films, another example of a deliberate creation of a visual record of a particular place and point in time. We also have great work from Candace Cochrane, Greg Lock, Jamie Lewis and Sheilagh O’Leary made in subsequent years. It is fragmented, but it is there.

Librarians.024In both cases, the intent was not to just record and witness, but to open channels of communications and influence public opinion and public policy. I am perfectly willing to admit that both of those collections are, for all intents and purposes, propaganda as much as they are a documentary material. In the case of FSA, the administration explicitly set as the goal of the photographic program “to introduce America to Americans” and influence public policy. In the case of Fogo Island, with huge support from the university and the National Film Board, the Fogo Process aimed to start dialogue between Fogo islanders and the government, again with the explicit goal of influencing public policy. Above all, those photographic and film collections were a superb communications tools that still, decades after the creation of that material, engage citizens in a dialogue about the way we live our everyday lives.

Librarians.025Most of the time, that ability of photographs to create dialogue is something researchers and art galleries, and sometimes photographers forget. When we as researchers, and I am very much guilty of it myself, use photographs, we merely treat them as illustrations and a sort of a marker that says “I, Bojan Fürst, have been conducting research on Change Islands and this photograph is a proof of it.” We could use photographs to do so much more than that.

Librarians.026Let me tell you a quick story. About two years ago, my supervisor invited me to visit Fair Island in Indian Bay. Fair Island is a resettled community that used to be a home to her husband and now is a cottage island for the families that used to live there. While there, I took some photographs because that’s what I do.

Librarians.027I thought this was the most important photograph I took that day. What you see here are two men making fish. There is nothing remarkable about this photograph except that neither of these two men is a fisherman. One is a pipe fitter and the other one is a marketing executive with a video gaming company. They are engaged in an activity they both see as an important part of their identity, but an activity that is economically meaningless. All of that in a community that officially does not even exist. The geographer in me thought this may be in many ways a quintessential photograph of 21st century rural Newfoundland. I made other photographs that day and I posted one of them on my blog. That’s how Dr. Beverly Diamond and Dr. Katie Szego found it and asked me if they can use it in a film they were making as a part of a class project about Stan Pickett, an accordion player originally from Fair Island. I was invited to attend a screening and had a chance to meet Mr. Pickett.

Librarians.028I 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. It turns out that the little pond known as ‘the rink’ sitting in ‘the meesh’ or 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.

Librarians.029This photo brought the memories of what he called “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. It was as if those photographs opened a dam holding back years of memories.

Librarians.030Photographs can do that because, as Dr. Rob Finley once told me, our photo albums are really oral histories. So we as researchers and photographers have to start using our photographs to start some of those conversations. For some time now photojournalists and documentary photographers have been trying to do that. Larry Towell’s exhibits are sometimes accompanied by sounds and artifacts he collects in the field while photographing. Jim Goldberg takes his photographs back to those who appear in them and asks them to write their responses on the actual prints creating unique pieces of collaborative art.

Librarians.031There are always going to be issues of who has the right to photograph whom. We are never going to be rid of those questions. I think we have to be aware of those issue, but at the same time we cannot let fear prevent us from exploring and using photography in our research and as a communications and a collaboration tool. In academia, we don’t teach the actual practice of photography and we limit its use through an onerous ethics process designed to minimize liability rather than actually address ethical concerns – especially in social research. Photographers and photojournalists are consummate craftspeople, but given the current state of the media they have little support and even less recognition for the work they do. They have even less time and no support to take on long term documentary projects. Right there is an opportunity for collaboration.

Librarians.032But researchers and photographers and those like me who do combine both skills cannot do it alone. We need support and that’s where you as curators, archivists and librarians come in. We don’t need money from you, although feel free to send some our way. We need the second pair of eyes, we need guidance and passion. We need you to build collections, we need you to guide us as we build our own collections, we need you to help us find innovative ways to show and display photographs and allow others to engage with them. In some ideal world, you would have power to commission photographers to fill in the gaps in existing collections and create brand new ones. Wouldn’t be great if the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Provincial Archives, the provincial art bank, the Department of Geography and CNA’s photojournalism students from Stephenville found a way to work together to answer some questions that we need answered. What does it mean to live in rural Newfoundland today? What is working in off shore industry like? Are we going to have systematic visual record of the construction of the Lower Churchill hydro project – the largest infrastructure projects in the province’s history?

Librarians.033It is ironic that in the age when photography is so readily available we are going to have perfect record of our cappuccino foam designs, but may not know what an iron mine in western Labrador looks like. I know that these are not terribly progressive times. We as cultural workers, if you will, are going through hard times in an age of unprecedented prosperity. We have provincial and federal governments perfectly willing to reduce public libraries and archives into mere warehouses.

Librarians.034But governments and government policies are not forever. Because these are the hard times – this is also the time to dream. Remember, Dorothea Lang and the FSA worked in the hardest of times to make iconic photographs. My dream is that all of us together will soon start working on introducing Newfoundland and Labrador to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Librarians.035Thank you.

 

Crazy EKTAR colours

1303-Girls001

A few family photos with crazy EKTAR colours.

1303-Girls003

Photography rant… and photos from Fair Island

FairIsland02

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.

 

FairIsland03

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.

FairIsland13

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.

FairIsland14

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.

EDITED FOR TYPOS AND CLARITY.

Remembrance Day 2012

1211-RDay02

So how far behind am I exactly with all this photo stuff? Well, here I am posting a photograph made during last year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in St. John’s. I also have a bunch of undeveloped film. Unfortunately, most of this will be on hold until I finish my MA thesis which should take another couple of weeks for a complete draft. Until then, I’ll post some old stuff. Some of it very old.

Photographically, last year has been a mixed bag. I had a chance to see more photography than usual thanks to a couple of work related trips where I could piggyback some gallery hopping. I also got to think and write about photography more than I normally would, which, i think, was very good for me. I had plans to submit some work to a few competitions/art bank acquisitions/ archive acquisitions and I wanted to submit some magazine stories/story pitched, but none of that happened. Just way too busy between actually making photographs, work and finishing my MA. This year, hopefully, will be a bit more photography centered. Maybe I manage to enter at least Arts and Letters competition for the first time since we moved to Newfoundland almost 5 years ago. I also have some exhibit ideas and I have a whole lot of photographs I want to make, but for now focus has to be firmly on my MA.

Sprint to a finish line…

FairIsland18

I just applied to graduate today. Now I really need to finish writing the thesis 🙂

The photo was made on Fair island, Newfoundland.

Meet Spangles

1301-Family 2

This is Spangles, the friendliest and the most playful cat you can imagine.

 

A year older…

1208-FogoIsland03
A year older… As a colleague of mine pointed out, considering the alternative, not too shabby at all.
The photograph was made this summer on Fogo Island.

Miss F. is 10 today…

Wow! Ten!

Dreaming of islands…

I need to get to an island and make some photographs… It’s becoming a mental health issue…

Martine Franck 1938-2012

Martine Franck passed away. Here is a story in British Journal of Photography. And the latest issue of Black&White magazine has an with Martine Franck as well.

What if…

What if this project I have in mind is not a 6×7 project but a holga project? Hmmmm….

Drug dealers in the neighbourhood

We have drug dealers in the neighbourhood. And they are not two pimply kids selling marijuana, they are the real deal. And everybody knows it. But they seem to be above the rules us mere mortals have to abide by. Since the city and the police seem to be fine with it, the only thing that’s left to me is to take matters into my own hands. Now, I am sure going on a smashing rampage with a baseball bat would be fun, but I think I can do better – I am going to get in on the action.

I am thinking a clandestine bookstore would be awesome. Maybe even some film and chemistry for the hardcore customers. I could set it up in the basement. There would be no storefront, no marketing – strictly word of mouth. You could buy stuff only between 10pm and 4am (since we are up anyway and it seems to be a busy time on the street so I might pick up some walk-in traffic). I, obviously, would not ask for a permit or rezoning, pay taxes, or ask my landlady for a permission since those rules, evidently, do not apply on our street. And the way it would work would be beyond cool for you – the customer. Just imagine – you and a friend take a cab or a car and park, with the engine still running, right on the street. If you are particularly cocky, you can blast some music while waiting. One of you gets out and knocks on our doors. I open just enough to let you in – strictly one person or two people at the time – you pick a book or a long roll of HP5 or some D-76, or maybe even a box of Ilford’s new MG ART 300, all discreetly wrapped in brown paper. You scurry back to the waiting car and drive away revving the engine first just for the heck of it. Nobody needs to know what you picked up and you can quietly share with trusted friends where they, too, can get the stuff. It would be awesome.

Kids…

It’s hard to believe how fast are these two growing up! I am testing a new to me Pentax 6×7 camera and a couple of lenses. Both of these were made with a 90mm f1.8, which is normal lens on such a large negative.