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Library as a place


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.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.


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.

Books to read out loud with girls – 3rd edition…


Waiting on a face painter at a birthday party…

Once in a while you come across a really great book. And I am especially glad that Moon over Manifest is not just a really great book, but a really great book for youth as well. It has a compelling story, a great set of characters, male and female, who grow, change and deal with real, difficult and meaningful issues. If there is a downside to the book, it is more a downside of our education system than anything else. This is a historical novel that deals with two difficult periods in Western and North American history: The First World War and the Great Depression. If your kids are not self-taught history buffs, than, as a parent, you may want to create a bit of a context around the narrative. So, with that, here is the updated list of “books to read out loud with girls….” And, as always, the only criteria for the list (and, for example,  J.R.R. Tolkien obviously does not meet it, but that does not mean you should not read it to girls) is that the books should feature well-rounded female characters. Feel free to add to the list in the comments 🙂

 I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
Airborne by Kenneth Opal
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Ronia the Robbers Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel
Firewing by Kenneth Oppel
Darkwing by Kenneth Oppel
Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street  by Jeanne Birdsale
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsale
Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke
Matilda by Roald Dahl
BFG by Roald Dahl
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith and Laura Rankin
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Georgestown Neighbourhood Flea Market

The rest of the set is on flickr

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.

Garage sale and photo links

Today’s post is just like the photo up there – a little bit of everything.

First of all, the exhibit and my presentation at the North Atlantic Forum went reasonably well. My sincere thanks to all of you who donated, offered help or provided much needed workspace. You all rock and without you I wouldn’t have been able to make it  happen. I still owe some prints and few other things. Will get to it ASAP.

Between reading the stuff I have to read and work, which these days is busy and in some ways made needlessly stressful because, as nimble as my office is, we are still a part of a large bureaucracy, I am managing to read, in fits and starts, Street Photography Now. It’s a really fabulous collection of contemporary photography and it makes me itch to get out and shoot despite miserable weather. One of the photographers in there whose work I find very interesting is Georgie Georgiou – especially his work in rapidly urbanizing Turkey.

Also, speaking of street photography, check out a local St. John’s site A City Like Ours.

And two more links. The first one will take you to the work of Ed Smith, a Scottish photographer exploring his countries islands, among other things. The second one is a whimsical collection of Jim Dow’s diners… which reminds me, I have some corner stores to shot and a roll to develop.

Got to go now, there is a trip to Labrador to plan.

Island wisdom…

“…ni bogât oni ku ima puno, nego oni komu je potriba mālo!”

Anela Borčić
Garbîn, zao vjetar

 in my clumsy translation:

“…rich is not the one who has a lot, but the one who needs little!”

 Anela Borčić
Garbîn, evil wind


Komiža, Vis Island, Croatia.

Croatian word of the day: bogat rich

Support Island Landscapes exhibit



The Jazz Loft Project

Just finished reading Sam Stephenson’s The Jazz Loft Project. That was an amazing read on so many levels. The book (and the web site) are the result of some 13 years of painstaking combing through tens of thousands of photographs and hundreds of hours of recordings that W. Eugene Smith made in the late 1950s and 1960s while living in a loft in New York that also happened to be a meeting and practicing place for some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

The book reveals much about Smith’s brilliant, but unbalanced mind. It also provides an invaluable snapshot of particular aspect of American culture recorded in unprecedented detail both photographically and in terms of audio recordings. On top of that, Stephenson has also conducted a series of contemporary interviews further expanding on Smith’s material.

The photographs Smith took of the loft residents as well as of the street below his window are remarkable for their candor and energy. Stephenson’s writing is engaging, occasionally funny and the structure of the book works well given how minuscule a portion that text and the photographs present in terms of the total material available in the archives. Really awesome read. I would also encourage you to visit the website and listen to some of the radio programs and recordings available there.

The photograph above was made at an event in Bauline East (organized by my current employer) last spring and examining the value of culture and heritage in economic and social development.

Croatian word of the day: zvučni zapis audio recording [zvu ch ni  za pis]


On geography

GEOG 6000
Reflection II: When your last chapter should have been first

There is much to be offended by in the history of geography as a discipline and a few things that, as a geographer, I find slightly embarrassing. As infuriating as I found the first few chapters of Livingstone’s dispassionate expose of what he frames as the history of geography in anglo-saxon tradition, the book as a whole provided a fascinating view of the political and historic complexities as well as petty grievances that shaped and influenced the discipline.

The chapters dealing with evolution, race and the Empire were truly reveling of enormous hubris within the British ruling class. From the characterization of essentially everybody else as lesser people to the arrogance of assuming that every human endeavour should be in the service of the Empire, the struggle to define what geography in particular and academic research in general are is fascinating. Livingston, as an academic, offered a fairly balanced account of the period, but there is a more entertaining way to learn about the struggles, foibles and sheer stupidity of imperial science. English Passengers is an amazing historical novel written by Matthew Kneale featuring an intriguing set of characters and a plot that is sure to warm a geographer’s heart. It’s a sea yarn at its best. And, unlike Livingston whose last chapter would have served as an excellent first chapter, Matthew Kneale is a supreme storyteller.

Livingston on the other hand, takes a few chapters to hit his stride.

From regional approaches to environmental determinism to the debates around the validity of various quantitative models aimed first and foremost at establishing geography as a ‘proper’ science, the book is full of actually insightful anecdotes. There are two things that I find fascinating about this more recent history. First, it is quite interesting that the divisions established a century or more ago are still very much playing themselves out. Jeffrey Sachs article on poverty and economic development in Scientific American a few years ago is a prime example of environmental determinism that is still alive and well (at least if Sachs’ CV is any indication). Geography’s determination to employ complex mathematical models and indices still occasionally leaves an impression that inferiority complex of not being a ‘real’ science dominates approaches adopted by some of the practitioners of the discipline.

Maybe what we need to accept as geographers is that the beauty and the value geography brings to the table lays precisely in its dual nature of being a physical as well as a human discipline. Livingston offers two quotes that to me seem to speak of the importance of keeping both of those aspects within the discipline. He quotes Darryl Forde as saying that “human geography demands as much knowledge of humanity as of geography,” and then later on paraphrases Charles Taylor warning that “[t]o succeed in substituting calculation for evaluation would therefore be […] a thoroughly dehumanizing achievement.” In a world that is full of complexities maybe we just need to accept that we need a discipline such as geography that is not afraid of inherent fluidity that comes from knowing that the world is more complex than anything that could fit inside a neat academic definition.

The photo is from Change Islands.

Croatian word of the day: akademija academy [aka de mi ya]


Igor, Battery, and GEOG-6000 post

Hurricane Igor left us unscathed, but the city and the province have suffered extensive damage. There are portions of the province still effectively cut off from the rest of the island and there are parts of the city (including our daughter’s school) still without power. We are all okay. Big thank you to all of you who asked and were kind enough to think of us. CBC’s Storm Centre has a collection of photos and videos for those of you inclined to take a look.

The photograph is from the Battery earlier this year.

As promised, here is the first in a series of posts originally written as assignments for my Geography 6000 course on the development of geographic thought and practice.

GEOG6000: What is geographic research?

Two years ago I would have never called myself a geographer. I thought of myself as a documentary photographer and a journalist and, at the time, was trying to figure out how to pursue a project I felt very passionate about. A small portion of that project became an MA in geography which suited me fine – as long as I could keep making photographs.

Since becoming involved in geographic research, I have learned to appreciate the complexity of geographic sites, people and their relationships to each other and the environment they live in and the external forces that constantly shape and reshape the nature of those relationships. The actual research process is rewarding and I sincerely hope it will result in new and useful knowledge.

But there is a catch.

In the first couple of chapters of his book The Geographical Tradition, David Livingston cautions about a fairytale that is so often told to young undergraduate. It’s a gripping story of a few brilliant and enlightened scientists standing up to the centuries of accumulated power and dogma in the hands of close minded religious priests and monks. In reality, the lines between religion, magic, occult and what we would today recognize as science were very much blurred. The first, fictional, story is rather compelling, but if it were true, I wonder what those brave enlightened superheroes of science would make of Memorial. Would they recognize the little row of cells along the SN200x corridor as a place of science and insatiable curiosity or would it remind them of monks’ cells? And I suppose you could look at the MUN’s clock tower as a stand in for a church spire and a cross – we worship a mechanical contraption instead of the divine authority.

I am being somewhat facetious, but as I work through the bureaucracy of this academic institution in order to be able to do the research I want to, it is impossible not to compare the hierarchical world of academia, its ceremonial regalia and the bestowing of degrees on young graduates as they kneel in front of their superiors to the world of organized religion.

The thing is, though, that the early scientists would probably feel quite comfortable with the whole scene of modern academia. Imagine Newton in chancellor’s robs and you’ll see what I mean.

Croatian word of the day: tradicija tradition [tra dee tz i ya]


Lisa Moore longlisted for The Man Booker Prize

Great, great news for Newfoundland writer Lisa Moore. She is one of the 12 writers on the longlist for The Man Booker Prize for her novel February. It’s a really excellent book  following a spouse of one of the men who lost their lives in the 1982 during the Ocean Ranger oil rig disaster. The book is about grief first and foremost. Lisa has written a very emotional and yet restrained book that never slips into being pathetic – a feat that a lesser writer would not be able to pull off.

This is a photo of Lisa from a shoot earlier this year for The Guardian.

Croatian word of the day: nagrada award


Salt, pepper and photography links

Auntie Crea’s – our favourite Saturday spot and a few photo links:

I am currently reading Don McCullin’s autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour and, understandably, his time in Vietnam features prominently. Here is a collection of photographs from Vietnam published on-line in Denver Post on the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb have an interesting set of images from Cuba in Visura Magazine.

Kottke provided a fascinating link to the work of photographers employed by Albert Kahn in early 1900s. You can see a selection of the work at the book’s official website.

Croatian word of the day: sol salt [sol]


Banks, Bulgakov, Burtynsky

It’s fairly busy these days, but the reason for lack of blogging is mostly that I have also been doing real world stuff like reading. I finished Iain M. Banks’ The Algebraist which was good – even very good. Banks’ science fiction is quite a different kettle of fish in many ways than your usual run-of-the-mill stuff. It tends to be provocative, imaginative and fun to read. If you like SF, I would give Banks a try. I haven’t read much of him, just two books, The Algebraist and The Player of Games and both were good. I also caught up on my magazine reading and managed to make my way through about a half of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which I cannot recommend enough. In fact, I am going to finish this as quickly as I can so I can keep reading.

I also had a chance to attend a talk at The Rooms yesterday. Edward Burtynsky was discussing his approach to photography with emphasis on his latest exhibition, Oil, which opened its Canadian tour in St. John’s. Listening to Burtynsky was very interesting because he seems to have found his political legs, which made for a much more engaging and passionate discussion than any of the interviews you might have seen before. The exhibit itself is quite spectacular. The Rooms were able to hang the entire show, over 60 very large prints, and it is disturbing and breathtaking. I highly recommend it. From a photographer’s perspective, Burtynsky’s talk was also interesting because he talked about a very consciences decision of trying to walk the thin line between not being a photojournalist, but not being an art photographer either. It works for him. If you have a chance, go see the show. It’s in the Rooms until August 15, so plenty of time.

This is a supply vessel for offshore installations moored in St. John’s harbour.

[UPDATE] CBC Newfoundland and Labrador has an online feature on Burtynsky exhibit that, among other things, includes work of a Newfoundland photographer Greg Locke. Definitely worth seeing.

Croatian word of the day: nafta oil [naphta]


The curse

Family blogging today.

Harry Potter is all the rage in our house. In the photo, Miss F. and Little Miss F. are dressed up as witches trying to fit into the muggle world.

This morning, they were playing Harry Potter – dueling. Curses were flying all over the place: Stupefy! Jelly legs! Eat slugs! Stupefy! Stupefy!

And then, in a clear, ringing voice, Little Miss F. yells: PEE HOT SOUP!

Croatian word of the day: vještica witch [vie shti tza]


Data visualization,

A bit of a warning to regular readers: this is going to be a post for geography geeks, but I think there is more than enough to keep everybody’s interest.

Yesterday, during research presentations grad students give to the faculty before they start their research in ernest, one of the students gave a really interesting presentation on data visualization. Data visualization is a fascinating field because it requires much more than just the ability to perform statistical analysis. It also requires understanding of human psychology and quite thorough understanding of design. So, here are some links that have been collecting digital dust in my “TO BLOG” folder.

First of all here is a presentation Dr. Hans Rosling gave at one of the TED conferences. I am not exactly a fan of TED, but this is really good even if I would argue with some of the interpretations.

You can also visit Dr. Rosling’s website Gapminder to play with the software yourself.

Cartographies of Time sounds like an amazing book. The book looks at the ways people tried to visualize passage of time. Beautiful illustrations.

The next link will take you to a collection of visual stories published throughout the history of Fortune Magazine. I know that the website looks awful, but do follow the links because you will find things like this map of Standard Oil tanker fleet, a diagram of U.S. Public Health Service, and this Margaret Bourke-White’s portfolio on copper production cycle.

Watch (h/t Antonia) a full length documentary (on NFB’s fabulous site) on Marilyn Waring whose work in New Zealand as a politician and social scientist is remarkable. Among other things, she has used a visual method to map the work of women that is often unpaid and unrecognized. If you are in the mood to watch an excellent documentary, make it this one.

And last, but not least, visit Visual Complexity, a site that holds many examples of data visualization.

The photo is of my Change Island hostess who makes the best fish cakes on the planet.

Croatian word of the day: vrijeme time


Another photo from yesterday’s shoot. Dr. Duncan McIlroy is showing a rock sample to Senator Fabian Manning with Dr. Ray Gosine, VP Research (Pro tempore), in the back.

Here is a weekend collection of photo links:

Time Magazine has a nice slideshow of Bruce Davidson’s photos. His new book Outside Inside sounds fascinating – a three volume collection of some 800 photographs. The book is available for pre-order from Magnum for $250 US.

David Rochkind is the winner of this year’s WHO’s Images to Stop TB. You can read more about it and see his work at dispatches website.

There is a really nice collection of Dorothea Lange’s photographs at The Selvedge Yard.

The Walrus magazine has a feature by Canadian photographer Donald Weber called Dark Element (text and photos). Weber has won everythign from World Press to Guggenheim for his work in Ukraine and Russia.

Here is an amusing look at the world’s bureaucrats – a selection of photos by Jan Banning. Unfortunately, Banning’s site uses Flash so I can’t send you directly to it. Click on ‘photo series’ in the menu and then choose ‘Bureaucratics.’ (h/t Quipsologies)

Croatian word of the day: birokracija bureaucracy [biro kra tz i ya]


Lisa Moore in the Guardian

About a month ago, I photographed Newfoundland author Lisa Moore for the Guardian. Today, the Guardian ran the photos and the piece Lisa wrote on grief. Her latest novel, February, is shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. If I ever manage to get through my grad school readings, that is going to be the first thing on my reading list.

This is not the photo the Guardian ran, but it is one that made my heart skip a beat. The morning I took the photos was very cold. Lisa suggested Signal Hill as a location, which was fine. Except, up there it wasn’t just cold, but very windy as well. As she stood on top of that concrete curb, a gust of wind made her stagger. The last thing I wanted was a photo of Lisa Moore falling into the North Atlantic in January.

Croatian word of the day: roman novel


Change Islands, Looking Into the Past, Boogie, Adolfo Farsari, photographer Tito

I think a post with a bunch of photo links is in order.

Via swissmiss, there is an interesting flickr collection of photographs called Looking Into the Past.

Boogie, a Serbian photographer currently living in the U.S., has a blog. He is the author of Belgrade Belongs to Me among other things…

Take a look at amazing work of Adolfo Farsari, an Italian photographer with unique access to Japan in the 1880s. His hand-coloured photographs of Japan at the time are quite remarkable (h/t Gizmodo).

There have been several heads of state who also dabbled in photography. Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is a Leica aficionado. Recently, a Croatian weekly (I am not going to called it a newsweekly because the amount of hearsay and gossip published in that thing is quite astounding.) has recently run a story about a collection of photographs taken by former Yugoslavian leader Josip Broz Tito. Apparently, he was quite a passionate amateur photographer. I would love to see what else he produced  besides what’s published in the magazine. There are several photos I find interesting including a couple of casual portraits of Croatian author Miroslav Krleža. Click on the first image in the gallery for larger versions.

Above are Change Islands in winter.

Croatian word of the day: amater amateur


[Old Blog] How to Read a Photograph, Colonial Building

I just finished reading Ian Jeffrey’s How to Read a Photograph: Lessons from Master Photographers. Huh… Lots of issues with this book. First of all, don’t get this book for the second part of the title. The book is really not about the lessons you can learn from great photographers – most photographs are printed way too small for that, although the overall quality of reproduction is excellent. The photographers are very rarely allowed to speak for themselves and the reader is subjected to often quite far fetched and quite subjective musings on individual photographer’s work. The book reminded me of my high school philosophy textbook where each chapter ended with “The Marxist view of….” section. In this case, you are subjected to “The Jeffrey’s view of…” As amusing as that is, it wasn’t always very enlightening or even factually correct. For example, Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa were quite misrepresented, in my opinion.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this is a very useful overview of the history of photography. It is heavily slanted towards anglo-saxon photographers and there are, I think, significant omissions. Nonetheless, it is as good a survey of photography up to the mid 20th century as any out there and its worth a read. Get it from the library, though.

This is one of those test photos for a project I am contemplating that’s going to work in colour much better than in B&W. Colonial building in St. John’s.

Croatian word of the day: zgrada building


[Old Blog] Change Islands store, Arab logos, Eastern European book covers, Vonnegut on style, Wonderwall

From the outside, you’d be hard pressed to identify the set of white structures as a general store, but that’s what this is. This is the largest store on Change Islands and here you can buy everything from Purity Jam Jams (sorry about the auto-play music) to fiberglas boats.

A set of miscellaneous links today:

Here is 20 examples of modern Arab logos.

A flickr set of weird Eastern European book covers, although I don’t see anything weird in it 😉

A website for an interior design firm called Wonderwall. The experience can cause slight seasickness, but it’s an interesting concept.

And here is what Kurt Vonnegut has to say about writing style. While I agree with most of what he says, I got to admit that I am having trouble getting through his Slaughterhouse-Five. It just doesn’t quite work for me.

Croatian word of the day: stil style [still]


[Old Blog] Wood Island, van Gogh letters, Russian book jackets and Slavic posters, Milton Glaser

Wood Island residents arriving for their annual church service. The permanent settlement on the island was abandoned in the 1950s.

A few links today:

Check out these collections of Soviet book jackets and Slavic posters (h/t Quipsology).

I recently came upon a link to van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the fabulous collection of the artist’s letters presented in the original Dutch, in English translation or as the actual facsimiles, which include drawings and doodles…

Speaking of design, Milton Glaser has a blog as well as this fun video where he draws Shakespeare and lectures at the same time. There is never a moment of hesitation in his drawing.

Last weekend I managed to see a movie – which really is an accomplishment these days. I have to say Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica was fabulous. Now, I would say that because I do love Helvetica. Although, I don’t love it quite as much as the guy who has this particular Helvetica tattoo.

Croatian word of the day: slovo letter


[Old Blog] Change Islands, Susan Sontag

Started reading Susan Sontag’s On Photography. Probably should have read it long time ago, but didn’t. From reading the first few pages I think I’ll have a lot to say…

Change Islands, Newfoundland.

Croatian word of the day: esej essay [esey]


[Old Blog] Books to read out loud with girls

Just recently, a friend asked what we’re reading these days to our kids. Miss F and I have just finished reading The Hobbit and the entireLord of the Rings trilogy. Originally we just planned to read the Hobbit, but she insisted on reading the trilogy as well. We had a deal- if it is too boring or too scary we will stop reading. However, she got right into it. In fact, during particularly gruesome scenes (like orcs catapulting the heads of the defenders of Osgiliath into Gondor) she had this maniacal grin on her face obviously enjoying the gore.

Some time ago, I run a list of books to read out loud with girls and this seems to be good time to update the list with the suggestions from the comments to that original post as well as with the books that we either read out loud or that Miss F. is reading by herself. The only criteria for the list (and J.R.R. Tolkien obviously does not meet it, but that does not mean you should not read it to girls) is that the books should feature well-rounded female characters. And please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
The Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
Airborne by Kenneth Oppel
Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Ronia the Robbers Daughter by Astrid Lindgren
Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel
Firewing by Kenneth Oppel
Polly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Igraine the Brave by Cornelia Funke
Matilda by Roald Dahl
BFG by Roald Dahl
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean by Alexander McCall Smith and Laura Rankin
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
After Hamelin by Bill Richardson

In the photo is the Little Miss F. with her friend and a neigbourhood cat.

Croatian word of the day: knjige books [knie gae]


[Old Blog] Violin maker, famous negatives, Torgovnik, S., Grbavica, Pettersson, McPhee and Wilson, McCullin interview

Rodney de Vries is repairing a bridge on an old French violin.

I lost two photo assignments in my recent hard drive crash that morphed into a motherboard crash and who knows what else. I also lost four days of meticulous graduate photo work. The rest was backed up so it’s not as bad as it could have been. Luckily for me, it was possible to reshoot both assignments. Rodney builds and repairs violins pretty much every day and the Storytelling Circle meets every month, so we’re good.

I have been lax about blogging, but have been actually collecting the links I wanted to share.

In the honour of the fact that by the end of the week I should again have a film scanner- and yes, I have a bunch of corner store photos- here is a link to a remarkable gallery of famous negatives. Now, if you are on a mac, press command + control + option + 8 and see how good those negs would look printed straight.

Slate some time ago had a story about Jonathan Torgovnik and his series of portraits of children born as a result of mass rapes in Rwanda. I am not sure what I think of the photos, but it is an issue that should be talked about. A similar situation exists in Bosnia. Slavenka Drakulić, a Croatian writer, wrote a heart wrenching novel on the theme called S. and there is also a Bosnian movie called Grbavica by Jasmila Žbanić that I haven’t seen yet, but heard a lot about it.

A couple of other recent photo discoveries include Per-Anders Pettersson and funky (and gimmicky) work of Martin Wilson and a gallery of photos by Guardian’s Don McPhee Also, here is a great interview with Don McCullin.

Croatian word of the day: violina violin


[Old Blog] Housekeeping post

Housekeeping post.

Instead of the ‘Currently reading’ section below, I have introduced a little widget courtesy of Library Thing. This is sort of a facebook for book lovers, but it actually provides some functionality as well. It also comes with an interesting idea on how to monetize a social media site – the first 200 books you enter into your library are free, but than you can either pay $10/year for unlimited entries or $25 for a lifetime membership. And there are interesting perks for members like being able to review books before they are released. Imagine if facebook people thought of it first. Your first 50 friends are free and for $25 you can add as many as you want without ever having to pay again. I’d go for it, but I don’t think that I would go for it now. With 200 million users, facebook dudes would now have cool $5 billion in the bank. Ah well…

The second housekeeping item has to do with the fact that I will also be occasionally blogging on Signal Blog. I will crosspost the entries here most of the time.

And the third item is just a note that I am going to be insanely busy over the next two months. I will be traveling to Halifax, possibly Calgary, then Burlington and later to Change Islands and Fogo island in the north of the province.

I think that’s as much housekeeping as I am inclined to do at the moment.

Croatian word of the day: pospremanje housekeeping [po spre ma nie]