Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic’
New Rural Routes episode is out. This time, my guest was Bill Reimer, a sociologist at Concordia University in Montreal. Bill has been looking into all matters rural for over 40 years and still looks forward to every encounter that can help him understand rural Canada a little bit better. I’ve been joking that if there were such a thing as a rural council of the wise, he would be Gandalf of that council. Enjoy the show!
The photograph was made on Change Islands quite some time ago. This man is spreading kelp in his garden as fertilizer. I really wish I could go back there more often.
A bit of an announcement post. For the past few months I have been quietly working on a project that is now ready to be made public. As many of you know, my day job is very much focused on rural Newfoundland and Labrador and through that job I get to work with a lot (you should probably read that most) of rural researchers in this country and some from further abroad. After a while, it became obvious that most of the research I was aware of never makes it into the public domain. So, as part of my job, I decided to start a podcast. A colleague with a particular flair for copy writing named it Rural Routes. Over the coming weeks you will be able to hear interviews with rural researchers, writers, entrepreneurs, artists, fishers and farmers. We are hoping to get some funding in place that would allow us to do a little bit more down the road. For now, go to www.ruralroutespodcasts.com and hear what we have on air.
The photo was made sometime last year with my phone in Port Rexton, NL.
A neglected blog. Out of necessity, I might add, because in three weeks, through my work, I am going to launch an exciting new project that I think the readers of the blog will like as well. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the photo links on this snowy Thursday:
A fascinating story about an American photographer Louise Draper. Really excellent work and it is indeed interesting that he languishes in obscurity.
On lensculture, go see Javier Corso’s Fishshot. It’s an interesting project about issues of loneliness and violence plaguing Finland of all places. I am not sure what I think about the photographs and his approach, but he raises important questions.
Check out these charming Portuguese “lonely houses” work of photographer Manuel Pita who goes by the nom de plume (or is it nom de lumière for photographers) Sejkko. You can follow his work on instagram.
Photographer Viktor Egyed based in Slovakia has a lovely set of images from a village called Szödliget in Hungary.
Robert Götzfried, a Munich, Germany based photographer, has a set of images from his trip on the backroads of the southern United States.
Contemplative, serene seascapes of Hiroshi Sugimoto are a wonder. You’ll love it.
Today, there is more news about layoffs in Canadian media industry. This time it’s not the CBC that is getting decimated, but Postmedia. They are laying off 90 reporters and merging newsrooms in Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Ottawa. In the meantime, the people responsible for the chaos are collecting seven and six figure salaries. I guess it takes enormous effort to be consistently that greedy and incompetent. The situation is no better in Halifax where the unionized employees of the Chronicle Herald have voted in favour of a strike action after the management presented a truly reprehensible list of demands.
All of it is a bit of a deja vu, to be honest. In 1999 and 2000, Ms. M and I worked for a small news agency covering southern Alberta for major metro dailies. Those were contract positions filled mostly by students like us and they required that you have your own equipment and a car and that you work from home. We lived in a small bachelor apartment in Inglewood and, honestly, those were sweet times. We were newlyweds and we thought we were making inroads in the media industry. Then the Calgary Herald strike happened. It lasted a year if I remember correctly. At one point, about half way through the strike, we were all hauled into a meeting with our editor and this guy they brought from Ontario (St. Catherine’s, I think) as the new publisher whose job was to bust the union. He intermittently yelled at us and tried to sweet-talk us into crossing the picket line. When it became obvious, with the exception of one person, that none of us had any intention of doing so, he told us he will make sure none of us ever worked in the media industry in western Canada. He was true to his word. As far as I know, none of us did – except the guy who crossed the picket line. That asshole who threatened us? He has recently published a book about leadership.
It became quickly obvious to me and Ms. M. that if we wanted media jobs, the best we could do was to move and so we did. A couple of months after we left, the Calgary Herald strike ended. One of the conditions was that the union had to be dissolved.
On this week’s episode of Canadaland, Jesse Brown has a conversation with Nora Loreto about the role of unions in Canadian media. In the interest of full disclosure you should know that I do support the show financially with a subscription. In this episode Jesse Brown, the host of Canadaland, is his usual somewhat pompous and somewhat unaware-of-the-world-outside-of-his-bubble self and Nora Loreto doesn’t appear to understand anybody younger than 35, but I think it was very important to have that conversation publicly. We need unions more than ever, but something needs to change and it needs to change quickly. The unions have to figure out how to make themselves relevant to a new generation of workers – journalists included.
In 2000, we did not cross the picket line because we had respect for the Herald journalists. We were never approached by the union, never offered their side of the story, nobody explained to us what was at stake. In the end, they were just lucky we felt solidarity with the people we saw as our colleagues. Or maybe we were just not yet aware that it would take another 15 years before we paid off our student loans. They can’t expect to be that lucky all of the time.
In the photo is a decidedly non-unionized shoeshiner on the Water Street in St. John’s
We had a What-do-you-want-for-Christmas? conversation:
Me (pompously): “For Christmas, I want a book that will challenge me, introduce me to new ideas, and make me a better person.”
Little Miss F.: “So you want a book on how to treat your children properly?”
The photo was made during a recent walk in Middle Cove.
The photograph above was made on my way to work one day. I have no idea why these old suitcases were left outside by the fence – probably just for garbage pick up.
Time for some geography links. I haven’t done that in a while.
Let’s start with the worst news in a while as far as magazine industry, and to an extend geography goes. In Canada, geography is very poorly taught in primary, elementary, and secondary school system. To make things worse, even our national popular magazine about geography, Canadian Geographic, is so abysmal we actually did not renew our subscription. So the fact that National Geographic has been purchased by Fox is really tragic. National Geographic is not a perfect magazine, but it is the best magazine on the market that promotes geographic knowledge and encourages interest in the world we live in. It has a strong American bias and a share of other issues, but we had subscription for years. I read every issue and the girls are starting to read stories that are of interest to them. I would like to think that editorial independence and high standards, especially when it comes to visuals will remain as they are or get better, but Fox’s track record is not good. Not cancelling my subscription yet, but watching closely.
After you contemplate the terrifying concentration of the global media ownership, head over to the Economist and take a look at a story that claims that the EU will soon have more internal physical barriers to movement of people than it did during the Cold War.
The rest of the links should be a little bit less pessimistic.
Lucas Foglia has been photographing American West and is concerned about what rural America will look like: “What is going to allow people to continue to live in the rural American West and how are we going to preserve or use the wild land we have left?”
Cornell University Library and its Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections has made public an amazing collection of persuasive cartography. Watch out, it’s highly addictive and you may find yourself wasting ridiculous amount of time – although, in my books, that would not be time wasted.
Two somewhat connected and fascinating stories. The first one looks at just how powerful oral traditions are as repositories of community knowledge. University of Sunshine Coast geographer Patrick Dunn’s research demonstrated that some Australian Aboriginal stories preserve environmental and ecological memories and knowledge stretching as far back as 7,000 years. The second story comes from the world of art and focuses on incredible work by an Australian Aboriginal painter Warlimpirrnga Tjapaltjarri. The fascinating thing is that his intricate paintings are not just visually impressive, but also serve as a repository of community stories. The code is incomprehensible to us, but those who understand it have an access to a lot more than a visually arresting work.
I once wrote that photographers tend to be collectors. I have that corner store collection and recently a friend pointed out that I should start a public phone photos collection as well. To be honest, I didn’t even realize I had one until I started going through some of my photographs. Apparently I do have one. Weird.
This is a public phone in Dublin, Ireland.
Some Dublin drunks demanding a few euros for making a spectacle of themselves.
The Photographic Journal has a really interesting interview with Alec Soth. The part about narratives and photo book in particular is interesting, but the whole thing is really worth your read.
A review of Eamonn Doyle’s book of Dublin street photographs in the Guardian (I love the fact that they have a section on art and design with a subsection dedicated to photography). Click on the links throughout the text to see the photos.
Head over to burn. and take a look at the work of Argentinian photographer Pablo Piovano documenting the human cost of agrotoxins.
Frederick Lerneryd has a set of photographs on LensCulture looking at a shelter for some 400 people in the heart of Johannesburg.
Stay on LensCulture and take a look at a set of rural portraits by Italian photographer Giancarlo Rado.
[LENS] has a feature story on Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert whose work Rivages I always liked for its atmosphere, the insignificance and loneliness of human figures, and its exquisite colour palette.
One of my favourite things to photograph in St. John’s is the Royal St. John’s Regatta. It takes place on such a massive scale and in such a uniquely St. John’s way that nothing else really compares to it. Every year, I promise myself that I will spend some time photographing the actual rowers who spend months preparing for the event and I yet have to do that. The crowds are just too compelling. Here are a few photographs from this year’s festivities.
For gear heads: This was all Tri-X in Rodinal.
If you read anything today, make it this series of exceptional stories from New York Times on lawlessness on the high seas. Most of it actually occurs in connection with illegal fishery, which is an incredibly lucrative business.
You can access the whole package through the splash page here or individual pieces:
“Sea Slaves”: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock – on slave labour of the world’s fishing industry.
This was so good that I wanted to read all of it and have actually paid digital subscription once I hit the monthly limit of free stories. I suspected all along that if you want people to pay for your digital subscriptions you have to provide unparalleled content and New York Times provided an amazing content. There is a lesson here for Canadian newspapers if there are any real ones left out there.
Middle Cove Beach last year. Perfectly legal caplin rolling.
I am not sure where the last year went. Lots of changes. We moved to a place that allows me to have a darkroom, a tiny darkroom, but still a darkroom. I can already develop film, but making prints will take a bit more engineering to figure out how turn the whole operation vertical rather than horizontal. This should also mean that I now have no excuse not to submit something to a few competitions I have been consistently missing deadlines of for the past six years.
I turned 40. I finished my thesis – although I am still waiting to hear whether or not I actually met the requirements for my MA. So not a bad year all in all. Let’s see what this one brings along.
The photo was made on Change Islands this past summer.
Miss F. is 12 today. Time flies. The sisters are here on Change Islands last summer.
I think it was a taxi driver in St. John’s who told me that summer in Newfoundland takes place on July 23 – in the afternoon. Well this summer has sure made that old joke irrelevant. We have been enjoying a marvellous summer – hot and sunny and so unlike a Newfoundland summer that everybody you meet is looking at you puzzled wondering, now that they have been to the beach and had an ice cream, what else are they supposed to do with this endless string of summer days.
The summer started right, too – with a trip to Change Islands. I almost never use colour film, but for some reason I decided to do so on this trip and I am glad I did. The ponies in the photographs are part of the Change Islands Newfoundland Pony Refuge, an amazing community initiative spearheaded by passionate Netta LeDrew. She has so many stories about each and every horse in her care and about the community who is always there to support her and her efforts to save a truly unique aspect of Newfoundland heritage.
And for the photography geeks among you: the film is Kodak Ektar and the camera is a YashicaMAT 124G.
The waves hitting Middle Cove beach were alive with writhing of small silvery fish spawning and washing ashore – capelin’s last act of defiance before the inevitable death. As people, whales, and birds flocked to the cove there was a frenzied sense of joy in the air – a feast from the sea freely given to all with a belly to fill.
Newfoundland has been our home for six years, but somehow we always missed the rolling of capelin. Not this year. We were not prepared exactly – we had no nets or buckets or even plastic bags to catch the sea’s bounty in. We came for a stroll along the beach and I only hoped that the capelin might be there as well.
The weather was right – capelin weather – a rainy, cloudy and foggy late June day. And there they were. All over the beach, there were trampled bodies of fish and excited men and women and children – many of them Newfoundlanders born and bred, but also newcomers from every corner of the world who came to watch this small annual miracle and partake in a tradition of their new home.
It did not matter that we were woefully unprepared because this is Newfoundland, after all, so an older couple quickly filled a plastic bag for us and there was really no way to refuse the generosity of the people and the sea. And why would you – there was plenty for all of us.
Every face had a smile and the fires were lit on the beach. People gathered to watch the little silvery fish and the minke whales gorging themselves in the cove. It was truly a perfect moment.
I made a few photographs. It wasn’t really difficult. People were happy to be photographed, to engage in conversation, and some even asked to look at the TLR’s ground glass.
Unfortunately, even Newfoundland has its tactless ingrates. Standing on the beach, sporting a fluorescent vest you usually see on road workers, was a man with a drone. Until that moment, I felt pretty agnostic about camera drones and gave them little thought. Well, not any more. Whatever this is, it is not photography and it is certainly not documentary photography. It says volumes about that day that, despite the thing buzzing around our heads and swooping down on the crowds of people who were never asked, engaged or otherwise made aware of the man and his toy, nobody took a rock and knocked the bloody thing out of the air. It was invasive, rude, and if the reactions of those on that beach who came from less fortunate places in the world are anything to go by, it was also frightening. Everybody I photographed and engaged in conversation with that day frowned at the white drone and its annoying buzz. There was no escape from it and no way to say no. Once the man in the vest packed up and left, people visibly relaxed.
There is no sense in arguing against this technology. That ship has sailed and we are all going to have to learn to live with it. It is, however, disheartening that many of my former photojournalism colleagues are embracing the drones as if they are some sort of a technological breakthrough. This is not going to result in better journalism. Good photojournalism was always about storytelling. This has nothing to do with storytelling, compassion or genuine curiosity about people and places. This is pure gimmickry for talentless hacks – sort of like HDR photography, just worse.
So a fair warning: next time that thing buzzes around my head, I may or may not be as restrained as I was on that June day with the capelin miraculously rolling on Middle Cove beach.
Little Miss F. is seven today. Seven! When her big sister turned seven some years back, as a practical joke, I told her that it is an ancient Croatian tradition that a child for her seventh birthday gets a list of chores she is expected to do. Today, almost five years later, she reminded me of that and told me she will always consider that list as one of her birthday presents…
The photo above is from last fall. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen somebody actually using those phones. And the fact that they are wearing shades is just icing on the cake.
Thanks to Brandon Manitoba based photographer Colin Corneau, I had the pleasure of watching this documentary on William Klein and you should watch it too. It’s fabulous.
And to go with the photos here is New Brunswick bluesman Matt Andersen and his version of “Last Letter Home”
For once, there is no need for a comment…
Mummers were here again. And was it ever cold. In fact, it found the limit of my Zeiss Ikon – the batteries lasted about 20 minutes in sub -20˚C. After that, I was back to my mechanical Yashica Mat 124G, which is not bothered by such trifles as batteries. This was also a chance to try some stand development in Rodinal. This is Arista Premium 400 in 135 format and Tri-X in 120 format, both developed for an hour in 1:100 Rodinal with agitation in the first minute. Not yet sure what I think about the results.
It’s so cold outside. Here is a photo from this summer’s buskers’ festival downtown St. John’s. It was a lovely hot day…
We just watched Everybody Street, a documentary about street photography in New York featuring some of the most prominent photographers working in that particular broad genre. The trailer is bellow. Best $5 I’ve spent lately.
[embed width=”500″ height=”400″]https://vimeo.com/ondemand/everybodystreet[/embed]
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?”
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).
Good 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.
Originally 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.
One 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.
And 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.
What 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.
It 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.
And 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.
It 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.”
Islands 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.”
It’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.
And 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.
There 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.
Let 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.There 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.
I 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.
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.
You 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.