BOJAN'S BLOG

Photographs, words and sounds
Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

What we taught a 14-year-old today

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I was going to rant, but honestly what follows just made me kind of sad.

Miss F., who is 14, wants to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program. The idea is that those kids who participate in the program will have an opportunity to learn about themselves and the world outside of the school environment, serve their communities, and hopefully become better citizens down the road. Part of the program requires them to spend one hour a week (ONE!) volunteering in their community. Miss F. loves books and spends a lot of time in the public library and she felt that it’s only right that she should volunteer with her library. She approached them on her own, which alone is a huge step for somebody who has always been cautious. She was told point blank that the library does not need or want volunteers. To say that she was disappointed, would be an understatement.

We heard several reasons why such response might have happen: the moral within the public library system is at an all time low (that I get, but still); taking volunteers is akin to admitting that volunteers can do the job of a unionized employee (I don’t get that one – why wouldn’t you want to work with a young person who is clearly your potential future member???); it’s difficult to find something for a 14-year-old to actually do… The point is that a 14-year-old was told by her favourite place in this city that she doesn’t have anything to offer that they would be interested in and that there is no place for her in the library other than as a patron. In the end, we helped her find a meaningful and a very exciting volunteer opportunity that she can start in January.

And then we tried to get her a swimming pass. Miss F. is an excellent swimmer. She has passed every swimming course available to her with flying colours. She has level one S.C.U.B.A. diving certificate. She has completed lifesaver program and now that she is 14 she is looking forward to her Bronze Cross certification training in January. She was approached several times by the local swimming club, but she has no interest in competitive swimming. She just wants to swim. Apparently, she is not allowed to do that for another year. At 14, she can only go to the pool during family swims when she cannot swim lanes, which is what she wants to do. She has no interest in splashing in the pool. So today, we had to tell her that there is no way for her to swim unless she joins a swimming club that does not offer anything but competitive program.

As I said, I don’t even have it in me to rant. It just makes me sad that a public library does not have a place for an eager 14-year-old bookworm and that she cannot swim for the joy of it – it’s either compete or don’t do it at all. I have no idea what is that she learned today, but I can’t imagine that it is a terribly useful lesson.

The seawall in the photo is in Bonavista.

Homesick…

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I have been away from Newfoundland for three weeks out of past five. I am officially homesick. The photos are from Bonavista.

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What happens to women in journalism

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I was on vacation so I am late to this story, but I do want to write a few words because this is important stuff. About a week ago local reporter Tara Bradbury wrote an excellent opinion piece on what happened to her when she wrote a straight-up story previewing a feminist festival/art show/workshops event scheduled to take place in St. John’s later that week. The comments ranged from creepy to criminal misogyny.

This stuff has been happening for a long time and it needs to stop. The only good thing I can say about it is that we are finally talking about it more openly then ever before. Tara did a great job locally. Canadaland has been talking about the harassment and misogyny women have to put up with in media organizations for some time now. Whatever you think about Jesse Brown, this is the guy who broke Ghomeshi story and has been covering the situation at the Toronto Star together with other media. The world of photojournalism is no better. Colin Pantall’s blog has a couple of good posts about what happens to women in photojournalism and photography in general (here and here) and it should make you furious.

The fact that we have amazing women working in the media and in photojournalism despite the daily insults and misogyny they experience is a testament to just how committed and how good they are at what they do. So for this post, here is a bunch of links to some pioneering and contemporary female photojournalists doing stellar works. This list could go on and on, but this will do for now:

[LENS] has a story about pioneering women photographers in Mexico.

PetaPixel featured Japan’s first female photojournalist who is STILL PHOTOGRAPHING AT THE AGE OF 101!

Ruth Fremson, wrote a story about women in photojournalism for [LENS]

And for the end I want to send you to three exceptional female photographers who were among those whose work was featured in June 2015 issue of National Geographic. What was remarkable about that particular issue was that majority of the stories were photographed by women and the difference in tone, style and subject matter was noticeable. We need those voices because they tell us very different stories. Spend some time with the work of Lynn Johnson, Stephanie Sinclair (Stephanie seems to be rebuilding her website so follow her on Instagram), and Carolyn Drake – you’ll be glad you did.

Fundamentalisms…

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In the light of yesterday’s referendum in Croatia that made one form of discrimination (agains gay marriage, in this case) a part of the country’s constitution the words of Karima Bennoune yesterday in an interview with Michael Enright ring sadly true:

“Fundamentalisms are the political movements of the extreme right that in the context of globalization manipulate religion to achieve their political aims. They are basically power projects that use religious discourse to justify an extremist agenda.”

Karima Bennoune in an interview with Michael Enright
(You can hear the whole thing on CBC’s Sunday Edition website.)

On the photograph is the Old Bridge in my home town of Sisak.

Change Islands

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I am transcribing some research interviews from Change Islands and Fogo Island. Here is a quote about whether or not a government should have a role in local development:

“They must. They must have roles to play in it all. They should be able to come up with something, but you never hears them talking about it. Just a project or something for a few weeks of work for the hours. That’s not a real job. That’s something to keep us quiet, eh. Just like a bandaid. A bandaid on the situation. Patch it up. Keep the people quiet so they don’t say too much. It shouldn’t be like that. There should be some permanent thing they could put there. They wastes money everywhere else, how come they can’t waste a bit on Change Islands, eh?”

Library as a place

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On October 15, I had a chance to speak to provincial library technicians during their annual  conference. There was a bit of dithering on my part about what was that I was going to say, but at the end, with the help of one of the organizers, I settled on Library as a Place, which worked reasonably well, I think. Here is the presentation with a script (or something close enough to one).

131014-LTAIG.001Good afternoon. My name is Bojan Fürst and I am a photographer and a geographer an I love libraries. Some of you may also know me as the manager of knowledge mobilization with the Harris Centre, which is what I do for a living, but that has nothing to do with what I want to talk about today.

131014-LTAIG.002Originally I was going to photograph library technicians and librarians as they work and then speak about that experience and how it relates to another project I am working on. For mostly unpleasant reasons, that did not quite happen. However, I was a bit dubious about that project from the beginning. I’ll tell you why. In 1999, I was flying back home to Croatia from Calgary. I was on a direct flight from Calgary to Frankfurt. Sitting next to me was a very pleasant old lady in her 80s. She was traveling to Venice where her grand-niece, I believe, was getting married.  She asked me if I’d like to see a photograph of her niece. I was a polite young man and she was a very nice old lady so I said yes. She, and I am not exaggerating, pulled out some 300 family photos of people I never met and never will and she went through all of them with me. Twice. By the time we landed in Frankfurt, and it is a VERY long flight, I knew two things: 1. I knew a lot about her family; and 2. I knew I am never going to be the old man that makes a complete stranger look at 300 of my photos. Making you sit here and look at photos of some of your colleagues as they go about their work felt a little bit like I was about to break that rule.

131014-LTAIG.003One thing most people don’t know about photojournalism, is that there is a lot of waiting that happens between actually making photographs. And that, more than anything else, is the reason why photojournalists often seem to notice things that everybody else misses. It is also why we often muck around with weird ways of taking photographs. We are also like lemmings, always ready to follow the latest trend – even if it kills us at the end. So in 2001 or so, David Brunette, one of the living legends of photojournalism, got himself a cheap, plastic, Chinese made, holga camera. It is as rudimentary a photo tool as you can get. In the hands of David Brunett, however, it became a superb photographic tool. He used it to photograph Al Gore during his presidential campaign. Next thing you know, every photojournalist is rocking one of these plastic and pretty much useless things. As a good little lemming, I got one, too. Now, to my eternal credit, I did realized that as good as David Brunett is, photographing Al Gore with a plastic camera probably had more to do with the fact that the photo ended up on the front pages of some of the world’s largest newspapers than the camera itself. Since Al Gore was not available, I carried that camera around with me without actually making any photographs – until the day I had some time to kill between assignments in Fredericton. Those of you who know Fredericton, know that it is not the most exciting place on the planet. It was a summer day, it was hot, and I was pointlessly driving around.

131014-LTAIG.004And than I saw this sign in front of a little corner store. Before I got an ice-cream, I pulled out my plastic holga and I made this photograph. For me, this was a beginning of a fascination with place making. Let’s look at a few more corner stores, but only a few. And let’s play “spot it” while we at it.

131014-LTAIG.005Ice box.

131014-LTAIG.006Lottery sign

131014-LTAIG.007ATM inside

131014-LTAIG.008Coca-Cola

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131014-LTAIG.010Pepsi

131014-LTAIG.011Word “Convenience”

131014-LTAIG.012What is fascinating to me about these photographs is the perfect blend of the familiar and the unique. Each of these stores advertises the familiar. Smart move because it lets us immediately feel safe. We know exactly what is that we are going to find inside. What is wonderful about them is that they are also very much unique places reflecting the personalities of their owners, but also the larger community they are situated in.

131014-LTAIG.013So a corner store on Grand Manan is unlike any other.

131014-LTAIG.014And a corner store on Change Islands, or The Store, does not look like a corner store at all.

131014-LTAIG.015It was photographing corner stores that started to turn me into a geographer. Geographers think about space and place a lot. In fact, some would argue that the “most enduring legacy of humanistic geography is [its] theoretical engagements with notions of space and place.” And if you look at some of the definitions of place and space we came up with, you could be excused if you thought we think about it way too much. We talk about mobility, about time-space compression, about commodifcation of space and place. We talk about the destruction of the vernacular and the leisuring of rural landscapes. We talk about place as “a qualitative, total phenomenon, which we cannot reduce to any of its parts or properties without losing its concrete character.” We, as geographers, try so hard to be impartial, objective, scientific, clever and complex, that the best advice I can give you is to stop talking to geographers about place and instead ask architects. I am kidding, but only just so… I envy architects. They are the only people I know of who comfortably straddle the world of art, science and spirituality and, the really good ones anyway, can talk about it in a rational and engaging way without sounding flaky. So for our purposes today, I think Christian Norberg-Schulz’s definition of place will do nicely. He says that “the spaces where life occurs are places… A place is a space which has a distinct character.” Just like those corner stores have distinct characters.

131014-LTAIG.016And if you are interested in things like place and space and distinct characters, than islands are among the best places to explore all those things. Being a Croatian, my encounter with islands started in childhood. We have over a thousand of them and sooner or later you will end up visiting one of them. But my true involvement with the islands started in a resettled community of Wood Island just off the coast of Grand Manan in New Brunswick. I was working on a story for CBC radio about the reunion that takes place on the island every year. It was August of 2008. It was windy and overcast with light rain. But there was not enough wind or enough rain to prevent the islanders from making their customary annual visit to their ancestral home.

131014-LTAIG.017It takes about 10 minutes on a small boat to cross from Seal Cove on Grand Manan Island to Wood Island. There is not much left there: a church gleaming white among the island greenery, an old schoolhouse, a cemetery, and three houses scattered around the island that serve as summer residences. What there is left is a strong sense of attachment and identity among those who moved away from their homes in 1950s as the provincial government refused to provide any services to the island community. Hence, every year, the former islanders and their descendants board a small boat and get together for a church service and a reunion. It is a story only too familiar to most Newfoundlanders. It was towards the end of my stay on Wood Island that I managed to talk to one of the last teachers who had taught at the island school. She tried to explain to me just what the island meant to her. This is what she said. “In the winter, I might feel down and my husband knows – he’ll drive me to Seal Cove just to look over and get a fix. It’s awesome.”

131014-LTAIG.018Islands are funny places. Geographers can’t really figure out how to define them and so we don’t really know how many islands are there in the world. You think it would be easy. Tim Robinson, writing about his time on Aran islands off the coast of Ireland recounts the anecdote from his first day on the island: “On the day of our arrival we met an old man who explained the basic geography: “The ocean,” he told us, “goes all around the island.”” What Edmond and Smith call “obstinate separateness” of islands has been drawing people to those specks of land in the sea for centuries. Islands are mysterious, romantic, sites of paradises and prisons. They are difficult to get to and appear stubbornly unique in a world that has “institutionalize placelessness.” The  islanders manage to hang on to the authenticity of their island communities and we all want to figure out how they do it. How do they hold on to a life as Ann Buttimer writes “which is attuned to the rhythms of nature, … anchored in human history and directed toward a future?” How do they “build a home which is the everyday symbol of a dialogue with one’s ecological and social milieu.”

131014-LTAIG.019It’s not easy and it requires generations. There is an art to living on an island and it is a complicated one to master. Talk to islanders and they will tell you that the best thing about an island is that you know everybody. They will also tell you that, after a lousy ferry service, the worst thing about living on an island is that you know everybody. But knowing everybody is exactly one of those things that makes islands such unique places. It takes human interaction – unplanned, unavoidable and sustained random human interaction – for a space to become a place. Another architect, Canadian Avi Friedman, said that sense of place is an outcome of the physical features that surround us, the space between them and the interactions that happen among those for whom the places are built for. It so happens that small islands seem to naturally encourage those meaningful interactions in ways that it is becoming difficult for most of us living in urban and especially suburban environments to experience.

131014-LTAIG.020And when I say difficult, I mean difficult. In urban environments we all live in, and I swear I will be talking about the libraries soon, we have worked really hard to remove even a chance of a random meeting in a public space. Among my photographic interests is street photography. It is a branch of photographic expression with a long history that has created some of the best loved photographs we all know. Cynics would say that street photography appeals to me because I am an introvert who needs a reason to leave his house and an opportunity to hide behind the camera, but that is not true. I love street photography because it is unpretentious, honest, and it requires engagement and involvement with the world outside of our doorstep in precisely the ways that are conducive to place making. Except, it is really, really difficult to do street photography in St. John’s.

131014-LTAIG.021There are no natural public spaces here. Our streets, even in the heart of downtown are mostly empty. I call this photograph “The Optimist.” What else could he be playing to the empty streets? And while we can build our urban environments to encourage place making and development of a shared identity, the fact remains that we don’t. However, I do believe that a quest for a sense of place and a sense of identity is so strong in us that we will find ways to engage in its creation no matter what.

131014-LTAIG.022Let me tell you one more kind of a funny photojournalism story. In 2006, I went to cover a story in Bosnia for a Canadian magazine about Canadian efforts to rebuild Bosnian health care system. It was a very successful program carried out by Queen’s University department of family medicine and funded by CIDA. In the old socialist system in former Yugoslavia, we did not have family doctors in a Canadian sense. You had a GP that was attached to your place of work or to your school. So my mom had her doctor, my dad had his doctor, my brother had a paediatrician as did all other elementary school kids and I had a doctor that took care of my high school classmates. It was a bit of a mess. If you need to see your doctor you would take your health card and you would go in early in the morning to your doctor’s office and you would wait as long as it took to be called in. The Canadians came in, introduce the concept of a family doctor, and, crucially, the idea that you can make an appointment to see your doctor at a prearranged time therefore eliminating hours of waiting time. It worked like a charm and everybody loved it, except the retired people who just would not accept the new system. Canadians and Bosnians got frustrated and decided to conduct a thorough survey and figure out why did these old-timers insist on showing up before the office even opened and then waited until the doctor could see them. It turned out that for the elderly patients, a doctor’s waiting room was a social place. They talked with their peers there, they played chess and backgammon, knitted sweaters and hats for their grandkids. In most cases, they did not even really need to see a doctor at all. So now, some community health centres simply have a community room, where anybody can come and have a cup of tea or coffee and do all those things they did while waiting for a doctor and sometimes there is even a nurse or a student measuring their blood pressure and providing advice about their medication or nutrition. Family doctors’ waiting rooms were places and yet nobody understood that.131014-LTAIG.023There are other such places that we create for very specific purposes, but that perform a dual role. For example, architect Avi Friedman lists farmers’ markets as one of those places. He says that markets “not only provide basic amenities and contribute to economic vitality, but they act as social magnets. They are scenes of trade, as well as places for communal interaction and gathering spots where one can watch the theatre of life.” I would argue that libraries are also such places. And we are enormously attached to them. We have all heard about the cellist of Sarajevo and Sarajevo market where people died in mortar and sniper fire, but one story that we don’t hear very often is the story of National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was a repository of knowledge and identity and in 1992 it was mercilessly shelled by Serbian forces in a campaign designed to erase any evidence of just how complex the identity of Sarajevans and Bosnians really was. I wish I had a better photograph of it. During the shelling, majority of the books and manuscripts did not survive the fire, but nonetheless, citizens and librarians worked under fire to save as many of the books as possible. At least one person died. True places, like libraries and markets, and public squares, matter immensely to us –  enough that we are willing to protest against their destruction, fight to save them, and, as in Bosnian example, even die for them.

131014-LTAIG.024I believe that libraries are vital when it comes to place and place making. American feminist and social activist bell hooks once said that “One of the most subversive institutions in the United States is the public library.” Some 18 years ago, in my first year of college I discovered that I am a photographer in Calgary Public Library. Also there, I attended a lecture, and I can’t even remember who it was that was speaking, but that person was introduced by the director of the Calgary Public Library who said that every single one of us in the audience should be able to find at least one book in his library that would offend us. And if we couldn’t find such a book, than he failed as a librarian. I never forgot that.

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Good libraries are much more than repositories for books and periodicals. They are not about buildings, or comfortable chairs. The good ones are true places. That means that they bring together people who would otherwise have no need to meet or interact with each other. They are truly subversive in a sense that, while making us perfectly comfortable, they also make us expand our worlds, confront our ignorance and make us better people whether we want it or not. Every good library is at the heart of its community. That is certainly the case of the Memorial University Library System and places like the Resource Library at the Faculty of Education.

131014-LTAIG.026You as library technicians, archivists, and librarians have enormous responsibility. Avi Friedman, at the end of his book “A Place in Mind” writes that today “The number of meeting places and their quality has diminished. Neighbourhoods, built for seclusion, have fewer people, fewer or no sidewalks, walking or bike paths, benches or civic squares. We have fewer public markets or corner stores.” But we still have libraries and you are the custodians of those places. Neil Gaiman said that the “Rule number one is: Don’t fuck with librarians.” And he couldn’t be more right. We need libraries that are at the heart of their community, the way our library is here at the university. We need libraries that are easy to access and libraries that challenge us to be better when we leave them than we were when we came in; libraries that are true places where communal life is lived to its fullest. I did not photograph library technicians at work, because I am not sure I know how to photograph people whose work is not to catalogue books, answer questions and mend broken spines, but to create places that make the heart of who we are. So instead of giving you photographs, I just want to say thank you.

Samo da mu guzica vidi puta

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I have a terrible case of cabin fever. I can hear my mom muttering as she reads this: “Samo da mu guzica vidi puta.” If only his ass could get on the road. She is right, of course. A trip would be a cure. Istanbul or Paris would be nice. Sarajevo or Venice. Havana. Montreal would do. Anywhere, really, where I could be a flâneur- an admirer of street life. A week of walking unfamiliar streets would be a bliss. Susan Sontag, who got so much wrong about photography, never understood that it is not about the hunt in “urban inferno,” but about feeling the energy of human interactions and ideas playing themselves out in a swirl of street life. A flâneur (or a boulevardier) is, to borrow Baudelaire’s phrase, “a gentleman stroller of city streets. An observer and a dispassionate chronicle of street life.” It doesn’t have to be a city –I’d love a long hike in the countryside, through a small village or a town just as much.

There is a certain amount of masochism involved in trying to be a street photographer in St. John’s. Tapping into the energy of empty streets is a terribly depressing thing – or maybe it is a sign of optimism. Look at the guy in the photo above. Every time I see him playing his accordion to empty streets, I feel he’s the most optimistic person I ever met.

This is not a unique St. John’s problem or even a Newfoundland problem, although it is certainly striking in a place like Corner Brook on the West Coast where the city centre feels like a ghost town.

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It’s actually unsettling to walk those streets. A walk on an empty street has that same claustrophobic feeling of one of the most brilliant movie scenes ever shot – the waiting scene from “High Noon.” (In fact, every photographer should watch that film over and over again – Floyd Crosby is the brilliant director of photography.)


Listening to the recent discussion on the radio about parking downtown, I am convinced that this lack of street life is in large part, if not exclusively, direct product of the bizarre car culture we live in here. Every decision we make is based around cars. Where are you going to locate your business? Wherever you can get parking. What is the guiding priority for a location of a new university facility? Parking. Farmers’ Market location? Well, wherever we can get parking. It’s a completely bonkers way to organize urban life, but there you go. And than a breath of fresh air comes from the president of the Board of Trade of all people. On a CBC morning show he talks about the need for a public transit strategy and how regional transportation should be one of the issues in the coming municipal election. He says a lot of other things and he gets all of it right. I feel like cheering him on.

After the interview, the CBC morning host asks the listeners something along the lines “So and so from the Board of Trade says parking should be an election issue. Do you agree?” And I scream at the radio: “No! No! No! That’s not what he said!” But there you have it, parking trumps everything.

Off I go to photograph empty streets… or maybe mix a Boulevardier.

Perfect combination

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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.

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Photography rant… and photos from Fair Island

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sprint to a finish line…

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

The photo was made on Fair island, Newfoundland.

You have to be careful with the island…

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“You have to be careful with the island. There is a trap here. If you prevent a young person from leaving, the island turns into a curse. They must go and get to know the world and it has to be their own decision to return and to love the island. If you tell them: “Don’t go there. That’s not for you,” then there is going to be resentment. It’s our job to push them out into the world. We have to give them the love for the island, we have to teach them about life here, but it has to be their decision. If you don’t do that, than they have no reason to come back. It’s only love that works… That is what happened to me. I had a grandma who passed that love on to me and I left to see the world, but I also felt that I can affirm myself the best here, that here, I am myself and that here I can make the greatest contribution. But if I didn’t learn that love, if I did not have that contact with the island, I would have left and would be contented somewhere else and I would not feel that I belong to this island. It’s all about where you belong.”

That is a quote from one of my interviews on Vis island, Croatia.

Also in the news today is the inclusion of a particular style of a cappella singing on Croatian coast into the list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. The song bellow is performed by Klapa Otok (Island) and it’s called “Islanders’ Ballad.”

My not so great translation is below:

Islanders’ ballad

We live off sea, by nets and lines,
We count the blisters from oars, picks.
Red are our eyes from sleepless nights and tears,
Our callused hands are hard as rocks.

And we are lashed by storms and rains,
And every day we are bent over a bit more,
And yet, more than anything and more than all other beauties
Our entire lives we love sea

Our blue sea, you know all our desires
You are strength, fortune – our life

We count the sails and white ships,
The days are passing with nor’easters and sou’westers. 
Miserly land gives all it can,
Life on an island is a joy and sorrow.

Tearsheets

Between work, family, finishing off my MA thesis and other assorted academic obligations I barely have time to breathe. The tearsheets are from the latest Newfoundland Quarterly  magazine. This is a tiny, little bit of my thesis in a magazine opinion piece form. You can read the whole thing here.

 

Collections…

Some time ago I posted a bunch of links on various photo collections here and here. It’s time to add another collection to it. Phil Kneen’s The Old Leather Chair Project is not just a collection but also an exemplary instance of true dedication to his craft. Phil lags his leather chair all over the Isle of Man in the back of his van.

The photograph is of a gas stop (I really can’t call it a station) along a street in Floriana, Malta.

Three from foggy Fogo Island

Dreaming of islands…

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

A few from Shetland Islands

Lerwick, Shetland Mainland.

A few from Malta…

I am cleaning my blog folder which is bursting with photographs mostly because I’ve been neglecting blogging for some time. I am, obviously, back in the swing of things!

A few from Fogo Island

A forgotten roll in the back of the fridge yielded these from last February…

What if…

Hmmm… this project I have in mind may not actually be a 6×7 project or just a holga project but an infrared film holga project…

That idea is thoroughly inspired by remarkable work of Wolfgang Moersch.

The photograph is from Split, Croatia.

A few more from Shetland…

A couple of photographs from Edinburgh

 

 

 

A few from Shetland Islands…

CBC Dispatches

In 2007, I did two documentaries for CBC’s Dispatches. One was on Croatian elections at the time and the other on the aftermath of the conflict in the Croatian city of Vukovar, which was completely destroyed in the war during the early 1990s. That documentary, with a selection of photographs that were never really meant to be published, is below.

Today, due to recent government cuts, CBC has cancelled Dispatches. This was, without exaggeration, one of the top current international affairs programs in English language anywhere. What made it great was the team that put it together. I learned more about journalism and radio from Alan Guettel, Alison Masemann and Naheed Mustafa during our brief conversations while putting those documentaries together than in four years of university. And that is the real loss to Canadians. CBC and its flagship programs, like Dispatches, don’t just provide news and entertainment programming, but also provide mentoring and teaching opportunities for journalists, especially freelancers. I will miss the voice of Rick MacInnes-Rae and I will always be grateful to Alan, Alison and Naheed.

The last show will air in June. After that, in this increasingly interconnected world, we are going to be slightly poorer, slightly more parochial, slightly more ignorant, and slightly less Canadian- not by much in the grand scheme of things, but I am afraid that it is starting to add up.

In the photo is a door on a stage in a resettled community of Fair Island.

Photo links

Some photo links I have discovered lately.

An interview with David Brunett;

A talk at a Dublin gallery by Sebastião Salgado (via Photojournalism links);

George Georgiou on the Time in Turkey project;

An interview with Martin Parr (via Photojournalism links);

An interview with Joel Meyerowitz.

The photograph was made recently on Water Street in St. John’s.