BOJAN'S BLOG

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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

A conversation about local knowledge

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With the last episode of Rural Routes we waded into the territory of knowledge. Local knowledge. You can hear an artist and a scholar Pam Hall talking about her project Towards the Encyclopedia of Local Knowledge.

The photo was made on Fogo Island two years ago. It’s been a while since we were there.

New Rural Routes episode

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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.

Geography links

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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.

Lawlessness at Sea: Journalism done right

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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:

Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, but Killers Go Free

“Sea Slaves”: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock – on slave labour of the world’s fishing industry.

A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

All of this is followed by a piece on possible solutions, an interview with a photographer covering one of the stories, and an editorial.

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.

Of capelin and drones

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Genesis review

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There are not many books of photographs that are truly important in a larger, social context, but I think that Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis is one such book. Aesthetically, philosophically, and even technically, this is not a perfect book, but, so far, it is this century’s most important collection of photographs.

Genesis is a monumental book in more ways than one. Even the mass-market edition is a large, heavy tome of 520 pages of the highest possible quality. Just touching and turning those 9.6 x 14 inch pages is a pleasure and, incidentally, the reason why  e-books have a long way to go before they come close to matching the experience. The weight, richness and texture of the paper and stunning reproduction of tones are unparalleled. The art editions Taschen has produced are massive two tomes of over 700 18.4 x 27.6 inch pages with a stand, a box, a captions booklet and a silver print all together priced at exclusive $10,000. The only thing that is more impressive than the price is the weight of the entire package – 59 kilograms or 130lb.

There is a reason for this lavish presentation. Salgado, in the introduction to the book, says Genesis body of work is “a visual ode to the majesty and fragility of Earth… [his] homage to the grandeur of nature.” He also, right from the start, declares that this is not a piece of journalism or anthropological research, but rather a romantic endeavour. Philosophically, therein lies a problem. It IS a very romantic view of our planet, but maybe romance is exactly what we need. The larger problem is an occasionally, well, for a lack of better word, colonial representation of some of the Salgado’s human subjects. This is especially evident in some of the photographs from the Patel and in the Sanctuaries chapter. There are a few photographs in those chapters that I find questionable. And while I am dealing with the objections to this book let me say a word about the aesthetics. The photographs are masterful and beautiful, but there are instances where the contrast is cranked up just too much – to the point of turning a photograph into kitsch. This, in some cases at least, maybe be the result of the switch between film and digital technology Salgado made sometime during the project. It is usually quite difficult to tell film and well processed black and white digital photographs apart, but at this size and presented side by side, there are obvious differences. The tonal range of the film is by far wider and more subtle. The opening photograph of the Planet South chapter of an iceberg moving on the Weddell Sea is butter smooth – it’s everything film can be. However, all of these aesthetic, representational and philosophical objections are really nitpicking. This is, after all, Salgado’s book so he gets to set the rules, and he is clearly in top form.

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Before I gush over the photographs, there is one more thing I want to address. Salgado has very publicly and openly acknowledged the support Genesis project has received from the Brazilian mining giant Vale. He has also been very publicly criticized for accepting the corporate sponsorship from a company with a horrendous impact on the environments throughout the world. All I can say about that is that Salgado did not go to Vale first. He went to those magazines and publishers who in the past supported long form documentary work and now, with some notable exceptions such as Rolling Stone magazine, spend majority of their funds buying agent-supplied celebrity photos. That is not Salgado’s fault. The media, public and private, have completely abdicated any responsibility they ever felt for informing the public about the issues of actual real importance and that is the real problem here.

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So – the photographs. They are epic. Truly biblical and if I would compare them to anything, it’s not to another photograph, but to Gustave Doré engravings. There is the same sense of awe and the magical light. These photographs are also unmistakably Salgado. The sheer multitude of individual animals is almost overwhelming. The mass of penguins in the Antarctica is in its magnitude, feel and even composition similar to some of the photographs from Salgado’s previous work. When Salgado focuses his lens on individual animals, the results are stunning, personalities emerge and there is a sense that what you’re looking at is actually portraiture and not wildlife photography. Oddly enough, with some notable exception such as the old San man leaning on his walking stick in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert on page 239 and a fascinating photograph of a mudman performer from Papua New Guinea on page 205, Salgado seemed to struggle with capturing his human subjects with the same clarity. In fact, it is when he photographs humans that the whole notion of ‘the romantic’ approach is pushed too far.

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What works, and works amazingly, are the sweeping vistas of some of the most remarkable landscapes on the planet. The photographs Salgado made in the Arctic and Antarctica are probably the most poetic and the most impressive. These are the landscapes and lifestyles disappearing rapidly under the pressures of climate change.

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If visual ode to the planet, a love letter of sorts, is what Salgado wanted to create, he has succeeded. That is why his book is beautiful, but it is not why it’s important. Its importance is that Salgado has presented us with a visual record of Earth that we don’t often see – a majestic place that is a home to all of us. And now that this book is in front of us, we have to ask ourselves: “Is all this worth rethinking the path we are on?” Now, because Salgado has made this book, we have to make a choice.

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On the bus – a mini rant…

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It’s cloudy, cold and about to snow. I am all crotchety so you get a crotchety post.

This is a St. John’s bus during a rush hour. Mostly empty. And over and over and over again we hear about horrible public transportation and over and over and over again we keep building parking lots, garages, and, in fact, make virtually all of the development decisions in this city around cars. We are dumb and we deserve the city without public spaces completely and utterly build and managed for cars and not for people.

Hurricane Leslie…

I think we are ready for Leslie – we have everything we need for chocolate chip cookies. Seriously though, I hope this one passes through with minimum damage.

Island tax…

The price of a roll of HP5+ at the local store? Glad you asked. Almost $3 more than if ordered from Toronto. Losers. Unfortunately for me, I am leaving in two days and Vistek and Henry’s are out of stock so the local guys just made a tidy profit off me.

Near Tilting on Fogo Island in late February.

A dream day trip

My smarter half was doing a bunch of interviews for a project she is working on on Avalon Isthmus and the rest of us decided to tag along as somewhat cute, but mostly useless appendages. She managed to wrap things up in her usual efficient fashion so on the way home we decided to make a detour to Cape St. Mary’s and provide the girls with much needed experiential learning opportunities the school will almost certainly not provide.

Of course making detours with children usually means more detours so when Little Miss F. threatened to throw a massive tantrum over one thing or another was I ever happy to see a sign announcing the Castle Hill National Historic Site. It was a great visit largely thanks to Christopher, a Parks Canada interpreter who was absolutely amazing. We hiked around the Fort Royal and took some funny pictures and than decided to get going. Well, at this point we had two hungry girls and that meant that the good mood would not last long. Luckily for us, we found Philip’s Cafe and Bakery in Placentia. What a treat! To make things even better, Philip was just pulling hot, gluten–free muffins and bread loaves out of the oven as we came in so even the smarter half could enjoy a full blown meal. Philip was funny, interesting and helpful and the food was simply awesome.

Of course, it had to be one of the foggiest days ever at Cape St. Mary’s, but at this point we were well fed, had ton of interesting things to talk about and were enjoying beautiful scenery between Placentia and the Cape. Fog or no fog, we decided to go and I am so glad we did. It was magical. Miss. F. declared, looking at thousands of birds appearing and disappearing in and out of the fog, that she felt like she was flying herself. Little Miss F. announced that a lot of birds make a lot of poop and that doesn’t smell nice, so she spent most of the time around the Bird Rock firmly pinching her nose.

Incidentally, the best piece of advice we got today came from a funny provincial parks officer who told the girls not to look up with their mouths open.

So here we are back home. The girls are asleep and I can’t believe what an amazing day we had.

There were a couple of photography lessons to be learned as well:

  1. Fog augments every piece of dust on your sensor – mine, apparently, has several gigantic dust spots.
  2. Digital gear weighs a ton and, therefore, stays in the car most of the time because I don’t feel like lugging this stuff around – will try not to make a mistake of bringing it along in the future. My film cameras fit in my coat pocket. Nikon, get your head out of you ass and make a Nikon FED or whatever. Yeah, I know there is Leica M9 that would suit my needs perfectly, but I would also like to keep both of my kidneys so that’s not an option.

Croatian word of the day: ptica bird  [pt itza]

 

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Fair Island cemetery

“Cemeteries matter less as repositories for the dead than as fields of remembrance for the living; the unmarked grave goes unseen.”

 David Lowenthal

Cemetery in a resettled community on Fair Island, Newfoundland

Croatian word of the day: sjećanje remembrance [sye cha nye]

 

Support Island Landscapes exhibit

 

 

Public servants

Work related post today, mostly because I like the photograph.

Andrew Treusch (middle), associate deputy minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada is discussing the changing role of public servant in Canada while Robert Thompson (right), the Secretary to Cabinet and the Clerk of the Executive Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ron Penney (left) the recently retired city manager for the City of St. John’s and an adjunct professor of political science at Memorial University pay close attention.

I don’t often post work related photographs because they mostly consist of talking heads, but today’s setup landed itself nicely to a different kind of a photo.

Croatian word of the day: javni službenik public servant [yavni  slu zh be nik]

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MA classes officially finished

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It’s official. I am done with all of my MA classes and I have passed all of it, too. Miraculously, I even have a half decent average and I might end up with a few academic publications as well – those two things do keep doors opened if I suddenly go insane and decide to continue on to a PhD.

I still have a bit of research to finish and a thesis to write, but that is something I am actually looking forward to. I also have over a year to do that so it’s not exactly that I am feeling a huge pressure or anything.

Even though I am not finished yet, I feel like dispensing a piece of advice. If you are thinking of completing a graduate degree with a young family while working full time and without adequate funding – just don’t. It’s not worth the stress and in the current climate, I am not even sure it’s worth anything in terms of your employability afterwards. Having said that, it IS a fun thing to do and it will make you, almost certainly, better at whatever you do. For example, my MA in geography made me into a better photographer and a better writer. Keep in mind there were other, just as effective ways to do that. I am not regretting the experience, quite the opposite, but I would certainly preferred if the circumstances were a bit different.

As an aside, academic publishing is the biggest racket in publishing industry. No wonder there is a trillion journals out there. They get people who spend years developing particular expertise write unique content for free and than deliver that content and carefully targeted advertising to a perfectly segmented audience- you would need to be a total moron to run an operation like that into the ground.

Ice pans around Fogo Island. The photos was made in late March or early April this year.

Croatian word of the day: izdavaštvo publishing [iz da va sht vo]

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Website renewal…

So we are back from Croatia and I feel like changing things around a bit. Since a true spring cleanup is too much work, I decided to change my website. I like it a lot and there will be several more changes and additions to it over the next few weeks. I also have some 40 rolls of film to develop from Croatia, Malta, Austria and Canada. It’s all good…

Tilting, Fogo Island.

Croatian word of the day: obnova renewal

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Organic farm

Tearsheets time.

Sometime in August I had a chance to photograph Mike and Melba Rabinowitz’s organic farm just outside of St. John’s. Growing anything in Newfoundland is a bit of a challenge because the nature is working against you most of the time. Poor soil conditions and short growing season are the rule and it takes a lot of work and stubbornness to build a successful farm. Melba and Mike certainly have both of those qualities.

They grow a wide variety of vegetables and herbs and supply some of St. John’s restaurants, farmers’ market and grocery stores with local and organic produce.

You can read the whole story in the latest issue of Saltscape magazine.

Croatian word of the day: povrće vegetables [po vr che]

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Deepwater Horizon spill – part II

Yesterday was World Oceans Day. It would be easy to come up with a cynical and snarky comment given the events unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, but this is really not the time for it. This was an accident and accidents can happen anywhere, but they tend to happen more often and with far more devastating consequences in places with lax regulations and places that are conveniently out of sight. Places like Nigeria, for example.

The scale of the pollution is mind-boggling. The government’s national oil spill detection and response agency (Nosdra) says that between 1976 and 1996 alone, more than 2.4m barrels contaminated the environment. “Oil spills and the dumping of oil into waterways has been extensive, often poisoning drinking water and destroying vegetation. These incidents have become common due to the lack of laws and enforcement measures within the existing political regime,” said a spokesman for Nosdra.

[…]

“It is clear that BP has been blocking progressive legislation, both in the US and here. In Nigeria, they have been living above the law. They are now clearly a danger to the planet. The dangers of this happening again and again are high. They must be taken to the international court of justice.”

In Venezuela, while the oil revenue these days benefits more people than before, the environmental price remains horrendous. Marcus Bleasdale from VII made a series of photographs on the impact of oil industry on ordinary Venezuelans.

There are allegations coming from people like Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkley, that BP is “doing the minimum to clean up the oil and everything it can to protect its bottom line.” He recently published a blog entry worth reading – it contains three recommendations on how to deal with the spill in the Gulf if you really wanted to deal with it. His anonymous petroleum engineer recommends that BP stop releasing dispersant; mobilize every possible tanker to siphon off the oil as close as possible to the spill site; and to immediately restart the work on the second pressure relief well. Read the whole thing.

But here is the thing – BP is a corporation and its officers have one and only one fiduciary responsibility: to make money for the company’s shareholders. That’s why we need regulations.

The stories around regulatory regime in Canada that have been emerging in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill are horrifying. The Tyee, an independent daily on-line magazine, has a story on the recent changes federal government made to the Pacific Regional Advisory Council on Spill Response:

…the federal government recently made sweeping changes to the primary advisory panel put in place to ensure that a major oil spill does not occur on the B.C. coast.

Those changes have weakened the panel’s power to prevent a disaster, according to one current member, as well as other sources interviewed by The Tyee.

[…]

What is puzzling is why, at the very moment that tanker traffic is poised to increase on the B.C. coast, Transport Canada has seemingly weakened Pacific RAC’s ability to monitor the shaping of key regulations, advise decision makers all the way to the top, and communicate with a worried public haunted by images of the Gulf oil catastrophe.

Puzzling? Hmm…

What would happen if a Deepwater Horizon-like spill happened in the North Atlantic or North Sea, asks Toronto Star’s Debra Black. “We’d be screwed,” is one of the answers. The Star story claims that regulatory regime in Canada has been substantially weakened over the past five years, and that the climate, ice and sea conditions in Canadian northern and North Atlantic waters would make clean up virtually impossible. The impact on fishing communities, marine life and migratory birds cannot be predicted or mitigated. Craig Stewart of the World Wild Fund Canada goes on to describes the current regulations as follows:

“…Canadian regulations governing drilling on the East Coast do not require use of relief wells at all – which is crazy given that’s going to be the ultimate solution in the Gulf. And thirdly the Canadian process does not require an environmental or risk assessment during the exploratory drilling phase, unlike the United States.”

All of which leaves Canadian waters and deep water drilling open for a potentially devastating environmental disaster, Stewart said.

Nice. The deepest exploratory well in Canada is being drilled right now 400km from my house and there are other deep sea wells planned for Beaufort Sea. One of those wells will be drilled by BP.

I just thought you should know and maybe we should all start asking a lot of questions.

Croatian word of the day: pitanje question [pee ta nye]

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Deepwater Horizon spill

Reading the news about the Deepwater Horizon spill is making me ill. Here is a bunch of links in case you haven’t seen them yet:

AP photographer Charlie Riedel’s set of photos on Boston Globe’s Big Picture.

BP is concerned with their public image – no kidding. They decided to hire former Dick Cheney aid to help them out because old Dick has great public image. Truly incompetent in every way. Here is a piece of PR advice – free of charge- stop the spill and clean up and the public image will take care of itself.

Gallery of photos at New York Times.

Apparently, BP knew about safety concerns with that particular rig for almost a year.

Newsweek reports that BP is preventing photojournalists from accessing the shores affected by the spill.

The oil is reaching Gulf shores and Alabama.

Local fishermen are training for containment and cleanup.

But you can rest at ease, Kevin Costner and James Cameron are on the case, which would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic.

And let’s not forget Sarah Palin who told everybody willing to listen that it was all environmentalists’ fault –  yep… I am not making that one up.

In Deeper Water infographic (h/t A. Sullivan)

Meanwhile in Newfoundland, the government is reviewing and tightening regulations around deep sea drilling, while the Orphan Basin project will proceed as scheduled. It’s 1,000 meters deeper than Deepwater Horizon, but the safety precautions are far more stringent- we are told. On the other hand, this is vicious North Atlantic and not Gulf of Mexico waters.

This is a rusty fishing boat in St. John’s harbour.

Croatian word of the day: katastrofa catastrophe

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Kitchen table mapping, Change Islands, Luminous Lint

As of today, I have managed to transfer two years of entries (2004 and 2009) to the new blog. That leaves me with only four more years to go.

My quick trip to Change Islands has been a resounding success with quite a bit of work accomplished in terms of actual fieldwork as well as planning for the rest of my MA studies. The photo above was made last summer during the ‘kitchen table mapping’ process led by the principal investigator in the project I am a part of. Essentially, through the conversations with the islanders he managed to significantly improve maps of the area that will, hopefully, allow local residents to come up with development projects suitable for their environemnt. It was a fascinating process to observe and it really helped me understand the importance of local geographic knowledge and how much of it could be lost so easily.

On this trip, I did manage to shoot a few rolls of film and am hoping to find time to develop it over the next few days.

A photo link – only one today because I could spend days on Alan Griffiths’ site. The man has created one of the most comprehensive photography websites I have ever seen. Do yourself a favour and check out Luminous Lint.

Croatian word of the day: otočani islanders [oto cha ni]

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[Old Blog] Climate change, Project Watermarks, Kellie Walsh

For some reason, I have not been posting the stuff I have done over the last six months for my work. Here is one of the photos that originally appeared in Memorial University’s alumni magazine Luminus. This is Kellie Walsh, internationally recognized choir conductor during a rehearsal at the Holly Heart Theatre. One of her photos appeared on the blog previously here.

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Entry 25 – March 20, 2009
Visualizing climate change

As a reporter and now working at the university, I always felt that large part of the problem that we face as a society today is that challenges currently in front of us are of such magnitude that they are difficult to bring down on a more human centric scale. Richard Dawkins calls that scale the Middle World – the one where time and space are defined in human terms not those of quantum theory or geology. The example of Danish consensus councils on technology is one way of engaging citizens in a public debate that matters in what Ulrich Beck unflinchingly calls risk society.

However, what I am also interested in is how do we communicate these issues outside of specialized institutions, either existing ones or the new ones that we are going to set up. The most intriguing attempt to show what climate change actually means is a series of photographs and public displays under Watermarks project. It’s a simple idea and it focuses on one small aspect of climate change – the rising water levels. And that’s probably where a lot of trouble comes from when we discuss complex issues such as climate change in public sphere. Inevitably, the issues are reduced to a much simpler explanation which then becomes the standard argument. Suddenly we find ourselves discussing weather the sea levels will rise 25 or 5 meters instead of the actual global impact of human activities on the planets ability to sustain life as we know it.

Croatian word of the day:promjene changes [pro mee ye ne]

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Climate change, Maldives

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Entry 24 – March 16, 2009
Climate change science
Reading David Demeritt on the science of climate change was actually refreshing despite his academic language (I guess, despite my doubts, there is a need for people like me doing what we do). The novelty of his piece was that he was not disputing climate change, which at this point is making itself rather obvious, but rather the way we chose to study climate change. Today, most of the climate studies use unbelievably complex computer models that, as complex as they are, are not an accurate replica of the actual planetary climate system. There is a host of reasons why we do it the way we do it and most of them are political. Essentially, and this is me playing a living room psychologist, it seems that politicians want to avoid making a decision (or exhibiting that coveted quality of leadership) and have therefore transfered that responsibility to scientists who in turn have turned to technology to make predictions, knowing full well that the models were never meant to be used for such purpose. That at least, is a part of it. While the debate is certainly interesting and important, it’s sobering to think about those who are going to be hit first by the changes in climate, sea levels and so on. In that light it is not surprising that small island nations like Maldives is trying to do something about it.

Croatian word of the day:klima climate

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[Old Blog] Sachs, geography of poverty, environmental determinism

What a massive wallop that was yesterday. I thought the wind was going to rip the house doors and windows off.

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Entry 14, February 13, 2009
Mapping poverty and environmental determinism

Just finished reading Sachs’ piece The Geography of Poverty and Wealth in the Scientific American. Hmmm… Sachs is right that ignoring the geographic realities on the ground is not going to get us very far in elevating the worst of the world’s poverty. And that’s about it. Sachs acknowledges later in the paper that there are other, more complex forces at play, but I still think that he is putting too much stress on the physical geography of poverty.

In 2003, I studied social policy development at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague. I was the only Westerner in the classroom and I was surrounded by some of the smartest and most committed people I ever met. They came from various southeast and central Asian countries, South America, and Africa. After spending three months in intense discussions, study groups and role playing exercises, I was permanently cured of any notion that these people need us to teach them how to solve poverty problems in their own countries.

And that is my main objection to Sachs’ approach.

Environmental determinism just lets the rich off the hook a bit too easily. It disregards the differences within the regions and the impact that centuries of us, Westerners, plundering the developing world’s resources has on their economies. It glosses over the 500 years of colonialism and domination. Congo is not poor because it has no resources. Sudan actually can feed itself and countries of Eastern Europe were not economically stagnant because of the lack of resources, lack of agriculturally productive land and lack of access to seas. I am not really going to expand on this more because Richard Peet did an excellent review of Sachs’ book of which this article is the main thesis. Having said all that, I think Sachs, albeit unwittingly, does pose a serious question. If environmental determinism is the name of the game, what does that mean for the distribution of wealth and power considering rapid and unpredictable changes that climate change effects may soon bring to the planet? His map of wealth and poverty may look very different 10 years from now.
Croatian word of the day:siromaštvo poverty [seer o ma sh tvo]

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[Old blog] More on shopping, coolhunters, Spin Cycles and Merchants of Cool

Entry 12, February 6, 2009
More on shopping and advertising and then I am going to shut up about it

At the risk of beating a dead horse and fully acknowledging that Heath and Potter’s argument as expressed in their book Rebel Sell has merit, I am still disturbed by their lack of understanding how marketing actually works. While humans might have predisposition to accumulate things, marketing is making sure that those predispositions have a chance to express themselves in the most expensive manner. (On a side note, Heath and Potter snigger at the idea of legislation that would require us to buy goods, but we actually did better than that. We have engineered products so that they fall apart after some time. It’s much more elegant solution than brute force of legislation – it’s called planned obsolescence.)

Heath and Potter would certainly benefit form listening to a fabulous series of six CBC documentaries produced by Ira Basen called Spin Cycles. Or they should probably asked themselves how exactly a ‘rebel product’ moves into the mainstream. They might find that people with job titles like coolhunters have a lot to do with it. By the way, there is an interesting PBS series (fully watchable online) on the subject called Merchants of Cool.

Marketing is not inherently evil, but neither are the people inherently mindless consumers. I would have more respect for what Heath and Potter are trying to do if they were a bit more measured and balanced in their approach.

[Old Blog] Shopping as human nature

I know, I know there is two weeks of posts in the blog folder. Bear with me. Another summer post from Nova Scotia.

GEOG-4010
Entry 11 – February 6, 2009
Shopping as human nature

I keep thinking about this whole shopping thing as both a way to change power relations in the society as well as maintain the existing relations. However I look at it, it ends up being pretty depressing. It’s pathetic if shopping is the most powerful tool at our disposal when it comes to changing the world for the better. And yet I don’t see how you can escape the fact that absolutely everything we do depends on the fact that it needs to be bought. I can accept that, but I still did not expect that reading a chapter from Heath and Potter’s bookRebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t Be Jammed would actually upset me.

Their idea that consumerism is an innate human trait in a sense that through consumerism we meet our basic needs and establish status by purchasing ‘positional goods’ – that is goods that set us apart from others – is interesting, but from there it deteriorates into mind boggling list of tenuous examples, and outright nonsensical claims. The more I thought about it the more it seemed that the entire argument is wrong. Humans have certain basic needs that need to be met. The fact that we purchase food today instead of producing our own does not necessarily mean that we are born consumers – it just means that in our society that is the way we meet those basic needs. The reason why we have to shop for food is more complex than simply saying that we like shopping for food. There is nothing inherent about being a consumer. Heath and Potter claim that advertising has nothing to do with consumption (What’s it for than?), but at the same time they are perfectly willing to accept that we are at complete mercy of our consumerist nature – whether we think about it or not we are engaged in competitive consumerism, they claim. We have no choice but to purchase a better car than our neighbour. Honestly…

Croatian word of the day:reklama commercial

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[Old Blog] Bruce Gilden, Nachtwey on Congo, gigapixels, Watermarks

Another photo from the Nova Scotia shoot.

Some links for your amusement:

Bruce Gilden’s piece on an inauguration ball made my morning. I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m glad there is only one Bruce Gilden.

Nachtwey’s photos from Congo are heart wrenching.

Here is another one of those stunning gigapixel photos.

Check out Watermarks project. Some of the most compelling images on climate change I’ve seen to date.

Most of the links today come courtesy of various people on twitter. I’ll try to better keep track of it so that I can credit you all appropriately.

Croatian word of the day: voda water

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