Posts Tagged ‘St. John’s’
On Monday, I delivered the following presentation to the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association at their annual conference. This is a rough script – not 100% accurate.
I am going to make one of those terrible presenter mistakes and start my talk with a disclaimer. In your programs, it says that I am manager of knowledge mobilization with The Harris Centre and that is true. Except, what I am going to say today has nothing to do with my work work and I am most certainly not speaking on behalf of the Harris Centre… Phew… What I am going to do is share quite a few photographs and a lot of personal opinion.
With that out of the way, let me thank you so much for the opportunity to be here today. It is actually quite rare for photographers to have a chance to speak to non-photographers… or anyone for that matter. To have a chance to speak to an audience of librarians, archivists and curators is indeed a special treat and I am grateful to Amanda for approaching me in the first place.
I have only about 20 minutes, so there are going to be a lot of generalizations in the things I say today. I am sorry about that, but feel free to ask questions, email me or simply ask me to go out for a cup of coffee or a beer and I’ll be happy to talk your ear off with nuances of everything I am about to say.
I want to talk about three things that are, or at least should be, interlinked. I’d like to talk about photography as a research tool; photography as a communications tool; and the importance of photography collections and why I think that archivists, curators and librarians who understand photographs are incredibly important to us photographers, but also to researchers and society at large.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. My original degree is in journalism. My photojournalism education left a lot to be desired. It was focused on news photography and sports and I would have never become a photographer if not for one assignment in my first year that, as clichéd as that sounds, changed my life. We were asked to write an essay about a photographer whose work we liked. I did not have a favourite photographer at that time so I did the only sensible thing – I went to a library. Calgary Public Library had, and for all I know still has, a decent collection of photography books on its ground floor.
There, I discovered a book of photographs by Swiss photographer Werner Bischof. Those photographs were a revelation. Nobody ever told me that as a photographer you can build a substantial, even exhaustive, body of work that goes well beyond a single news photograph. I did not think about it in those terms then, but what appealed to me was the fact that Werner Bischof was a photographer who was doing research – systematically investigating matters of interest.
Journalism and photojournalism as industries are in trouble these days although, I think, they suffer largely from self-inflicted wounds. Like many, I left the industry and had other jobs, but slowly started developing my own photo-research projects. I photographed my neighbourhood in Saint John, New Brunswick.
I photographed a crew of a tug boat, city’s chefs, and city streets. I had this idea about working on a project about small islands. Eventually, I decided to give photojournalism another try so I worked full time as a freelancer for about a year.
This is my most published photograph from that year. This woman, whose maiden name was Weed, was not allowed to use her maiden name on the license plate of her new Mustang because New Brunswick government thought that it could be seen as promoting marijuana or something like that. The photograph was made for CanWest News and it was published in newspapers right across the country. For a year afterwards, when you googled my name, you would get a page of variations on this photo. I hated this photograph. To me, it was everything that was wrong with photojournalism – shallow, pointless and with no impact. But I still loved photography. And I still wanted to photograph small islands.
It so happened that five years ago, I had a chance to move to Newfoundland. Which was, obviously, great if you wanted to photograph islands. I turned portion of that idea about small islands into an MA project. My ethics approval did not allow for photographs of people so I reinvented myself as a landscape photographer.
As I was doing my research, photography was just a tiny part of it. Given the nature of my investigation, that was fine. However, as I built a collection of photographs from Croatia and Newfoundland, I started asking questions. Why do Newfoundlanders build with wood and Croatians with stone?
Why do houses in a Croatian fishing village stubbornly stick together, while houses in a Newfoundland fishing village spread themselves along the shore? Is it really just matter of climate or can we see here political, economic and social layers that create island identities?
Over the past 30 years, a rift seems to have opened between the academic research and those like me actually making photographs. On the academic side, we developed some pretty impressive ways to analyse photographs.
Dr. Gillian Rose has an excellent overview in a book called “Visual Methodologies.” She identified eight different kinds of analysis. They are: compositional interpretation, content analysis, semiology, discourse analysis I, discourse analysis II, audience studies, anthropological approach to photographs…
Each of these is useful in its own way as an analytical tool. If you wanted to analyse portraits of St. John’s residents in 1902, some of these would be very useful indeed. What they are not terribly useful for is actually creating a photographic body of work as a part of a research process. In fact, outside of how-to-books these days more concerned with digital editing techniques than actual photography, you will find very little about photography as a research practice. For that, you have to step across the divide and talk to photojournalists and documentary photographers. They, unfortunately, may not have time to talk.
They are caught between a horrendous mismanagement of the outlets they work for and unprecedented technological changes in their craft. They are trying to demonstrate the relevance of deliberate and thoughtful photography in today’s image saturated world and develop new forms of storytelling that will keep the viewers, and the advertisers, glued to real and virtual pages.
One thing both groups, the academics and the practitioners, have in common is their concern with ethics in photography. But even here we have a rift. Academic rules of institutional ethics are largely driven by universities’ desire to protect themselves from liability, while photographers’ concerns are much more nuanced they get completely lost in the current fight between the photographers and their employers over who actually owns photographers’ work.
The result of focus on liability among academic administrators is a virtual ban on creation of new photographic work within academic context. In fact, the “ethics creep” is now spilling over even into more mundane methods of academic research such as interview. Here at Memorial, you are advised by the ethics board not to ask questions that might upset the person you are having a conversation with. I am afraid that road leads directly to boring research that nobody cares about enough to even get upset by it. But I digress.
To summarize so far: We live surrounded by photographic material, more so than ever before. Yet, we have a situation where academic researchers are almost solely preoccupied with analysing other peoples’ work. There is no concern with the actual creation of new photographic documentary material and we do not teach the actual craft of photography at all as part of our methodology classes – not even in visual methodologies. In fact, in this country, through the ethics process, we made it nearly impossible to engage in photographic practice as a valid research method.
Depriving ourselves of a research tool is only a part of the problem. We are also denying ourselves an excellent communications tool and, to use a phrase tossed so lightly these days, an engagement tool. Let me explain what I mean with a historical reference and a personal story.
The most extensive, deliberately created collection of documentary photographs anywhere in the world is about 80 years old. To this day, the work of Farm Security Administration photographers such as Dorothea Lang, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks, under the directorship of Roy Stryker remains unchallenged. Their work still inspires debate about the Great Depression and still serves as a bar many a documentary photographer aims for. We are incredibly lucky here in Newfoundland and Labrador to have, in the Fogo Process films, another example of a deliberate creation of a visual record of a particular place and point in time. We also have great work from Candace Cochrane, Greg Lock, Jamie Lewis and Sheilagh O’Leary made in subsequent years. It is fragmented, but it is there.
In both cases, the intent was not to just record and witness, but to open channels of communications and influence public opinion and public policy. I am perfectly willing to admit that both of those collections are, for all intents and purposes, propaganda as much as they are a documentary material. In the case of FSA, the administration explicitly set as the goal of the photographic program “to introduce America to Americans” and influence public policy. In the case of Fogo Island, with huge support from the university and the National Film Board, the Fogo Process aimed to start dialogue between Fogo islanders and the government, again with the explicit goal of influencing public policy. Above all, those photographic and film collections were a superb communications tools that still, decades after the creation of that material, engage citizens in a dialogue about the way we live our everyday lives.
Most of the time, that ability of photographs to create dialogue is something researchers and art galleries, and sometimes photographers forget. When we as researchers, and I am very much guilty of it myself, use photographs, we merely treat them as illustrations and a sort of a marker that says “I, Bojan Fürst, have been conducting research on Change Islands and this photograph is a proof of it.” We could use photographs to do so much more than that.
Let me tell you a quick story. About two years ago, my supervisor invited me to visit Fair Island in Indian Bay. Fair Island is a resettled community that used to be a home to her husband and now is a cottage island for the families that used to live there. While there, I took some photographs because that’s what I do.
I thought this was the most important photograph I took that day. What you see here are two men making fish. There is nothing remarkable about this photograph except that neither of these two men is a fisherman. One is a pipe fitter and the other one is a marketing executive with a video gaming company. They are engaged in an activity they both see as an important part of their identity, but an activity that is economically meaningless. All of that in a community that officially does not even exist. The geographer in me thought this may be in many ways a quintessential photograph of 21st century rural Newfoundland. I made other photographs that day and I posted one of them on my blog. That’s how Dr. Beverly Diamond and Dr. Katie Szego found it and asked me if they can use it in a film they were making as a part of a class project about Stan Pickett, an accordion player originally from Fair Island. I was invited to attend a screening and had a chance to meet Mr. Pickett.
I was introduced to Stan and we got chatting. I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of other photos from Fair Island. His eyes glanced over the fish-making photo, but the little pond, the pillars of the old church and the photo of stages and stores at the end of a wharf caught his attention. It turns out that the little pond known as ‘the rink’ sitting in ‘the meesh’ or marsh was not just a place to play a game of hockey, but also a major social space. There were bonfires on the neighbouring hills and games and midnight runs with torches between the hills. Stan could just spin one story after another and I kept wishing I had a recorder rolling.
This photo brought the memories of what he called “old-year-out-new-year-in-day” and downhill races in an old wooden punt that would end at the bottom of the gulch and, sometimes, in the ocean. And the church pillars? Well it was his dad who started the church and… It was magical. It was as if those photographs opened a dam holding back years of memories.
Photographs can do that because, as Dr. Rob Finley once told me, our photo albums are really oral histories. So we as researchers and photographers have to start using our photographs to start some of those conversations. For some time now photojournalists and documentary photographers have been trying to do that. Larry Towell’s exhibits are sometimes accompanied by sounds and artifacts he collects in the field while photographing. Jim Goldberg takes his photographs back to those who appear in them and asks them to write their responses on the actual prints creating unique pieces of collaborative art.
There are always going to be issues of who has the right to photograph whom. We are never going to be rid of those questions. I think we have to be aware of those issue, but at the same time we cannot let fear prevent us from exploring and using photography in our research and as a communications and a collaboration tool. In academia, we don’t teach the actual practice of photography and we limit its use through an onerous ethics process designed to minimize liability rather than actually address ethical concerns – especially in social research. Photographers and photojournalists are consummate craftspeople, but given the current state of the media they have little support and even less recognition for the work they do. They have even less time and no support to take on long term documentary projects. Right there is an opportunity for collaboration.
But researchers and photographers and those like me who do combine both skills cannot do it alone. We need support and that’s where you as curators, archivists and librarians come in. We don’t need money from you, although feel free to send some our way. We need the second pair of eyes, we need guidance and passion. We need you to build collections, we need you to guide us as we build our own collections, we need you to help us find innovative ways to show and display photographs and allow others to engage with them. In some ideal world, you would have power to commission photographers to fill in the gaps in existing collections and create brand new ones. Wouldn’t be great if the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, Provincial Archives, the provincial art bank, the Department of Geography and CNA’s photojournalism students from Stephenville found a way to work together to answer some questions that we need answered. What does it mean to live in rural Newfoundland today? What is working in off shore industry like? Are we going to have systematic visual record of the construction of the Lower Churchill hydro project – the largest infrastructure projects in the province’s history?
It is ironic that in the age when photography is so readily available we are going to have perfect record of our cappuccino foam designs, but may not know what an iron mine in western Labrador looks like. I know that these are not terribly progressive times. We as cultural workers, if you will, are going through hard times in an age of unprecedented prosperity. We have provincial and federal governments perfectly willing to reduce public libraries and archives into mere warehouses.
But governments and government policies are not forever. Because these are the hard times – this is also the time to dream. Remember, Dorothea Lang and the FSA worked in the hardest of times to make iconic photographs. My dream is that all of us together will soon start working on introducing Newfoundland and Labrador to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
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
It’s snowing and blizzarding and I am feeling like a zombie so here is the last year’s zombie walk. I am also researching B&Bs in Old Havana and recipes involving use of Chambord. Chambord Lemonade sounds good.
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.
I have this story idea I’ve been meaning to pursue and no time to actually do it. However, here is a quick look at a first little vignette. I was going to create a fancy slideshow with an audio, but there are not that many photographs and, besides, I get bored looking at those slideshows, so here is an audio file and a selection of photographs from Fogtown Barber and Shop. Press play (less than 4 minutes):
Family Barber shop Chris refers to in the story was one of those St. John’s institution that has been a mainstay of downtown for decades and it closed sometime in 2011. This is the only photograph I made of it although I have been getting my haircut there since we moved to St. John’s. The barber in the photo is Ted.
It was almost a relief. The murder that took place two weeks ago in a house on our previously quiet cul-de-sac was a logical outcome of nearly two years of what one of our neighbours called “terrorizing” presence of a drug house on the street. Two years of constant night traffic, fights, screaming, discarded needles and, lately, prostitution, countless calls to the city, to the landlord and to the police at the end did not accomplish much of anything. It took a vicious beating that eventually became a murder for the residents to be taken seriously.
It was about two years ago that the drug dealers moved in and, with them, very slowly, fear moved in as well. The kids stopped playing outside, the neighbours stopped talking on the street, calls were made anonymously, everybody closed blinds in the evening and the lights were turned off because nobody wanted to be mistaken for “that” house. I would sometime work late at night on my thesis with the light on in the living room only to have somebody knock on the door looking for his or her next hit. Then car wrecks appeared around the drug house and eventually garbage was strewn up and down the street and the little park at the end of the street became a depository of used condoms and needles.
Immediately after the murder and a fire that followed it, the media descended on the street in the least helpful way. The house where the crime took place became a backdrop. You could almost feel the glee in the reporters’ voices.
Police interviewed all of us and there was suddenly a whole new vocabulary and a whole new world that came with it. We learned that what was in our neighbourhood was a “flop house.” We learned about complex drug distribution chains and that the little blue plastic vials we were finding everywhere were actually water ampules used to quickly prepare drugs for intravenous use. We also learned about police procedures and about city officials more concerned with liability than the fact that somebody might step on a used needle. Most of all, we learned about each other. I now know most of the names of the people who live on our street. We actually like each other. And we all like our neighbourhood. It’s up to us now to keep those connections alive and we hopefully will do just that in the coming months.
Memorial University knitting masters had a small display in the Landing of the University Centre last Friday. As you can see, awesome stuff…
First shots from with ZI and a 35mm C-Biogon 2.8. Sorry for run of the mill shots, needed to test the lens and not much chance yesterday beside boardroom desk and kids… As you can see, Miss F. was not quite a willing subject
A few family photos with crazy EKTAR colours.
So how far behind am I exactly with all this photo stuff? Well, here I am posting a photograph made during last year’s Remembrance Day ceremony in St. John’s. I also have a bunch of undeveloped film. Unfortunately, most of this will be on hold until I finish my MA thesis which should take another couple of weeks for a complete draft. Until then, I’ll post some old stuff. Some of it very old.
Photographically, last year has been a mixed bag. I had a chance to see more photography than usual thanks to a couple of work related trips where I could piggyback some gallery hopping. I also got to think and write about photography more than I normally would, which, i think, was very good for me. I had plans to submit some work to a few competitions/art bank acquisitions/ archive acquisitions and I wanted to submit some magazine stories/story pitched, but none of that happened. Just way too busy between actually making photographs, work and finishing my MA. This year, hopefully, will be a bit more photography centered. Maybe I manage to enter at least Arts and Letters competition for the first time since we moved to Newfoundland almost 5 years ago. I also have some exhibit ideas and I have a whole lot of photographs I want to make, but for now focus has to be firmly on my MA.
This is Spangles, the friendliest and the most playful cat you can imagine.
After more than four years in St. John’s, there is a pattern to some of the events I tend to photograph every year. The Regatta and the Mummers Parade, Remembrance Day and Memorial Day and, as of this year, we can probably add the Zombie Walk to it for sheer bizarreness value.
However, Memorial Day always feels slightly different. On July 1, while the rest of Canada celebrates Canada Day, Newfoundlanders spend the morning in a more reflective and sombre mood. The day has been observed since 1917 as a commemoration of the Newfoundland lives lost in time of war, especially during the First World War when most of the members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were killed during the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Out of almost 800 men, only 68 were on the roll call the next morning.
The events of that July 1 are truly a defining moment in history for many Newfoundlanders and that can be felt during the service at the National War Memorial in St. John’s.
These photographs were made during this year’s ceremonies.
I had no idea, no idea that this whole zombie thing is as big as it is. Oddly enough, I had two pop-culture eye-opening moments in the previous 24 hours.
On the way back from a meeting just outside the town, my two colleagues proved to be quite knowledgable about possible zombie apocalypse scenarios and somewhat familiar with basic zombie invasion defences. It made for an amusing, if surprising conversation. Then, I came home to find in my facebook feed several people discussing the 3rd annual Zombie Walk. Third!!! What kind of a rock do I live under?
As I was taking in elaborate costumes, remarkable range of grotesque faces, jerky body movements and quite disturbing sound effects some of the participants were capable off, I quipped to a friend that we need a Zombies vs. Mummers stand off. Her take on it was that mummers would win hands down. Why? “You don’t mess with a drunk man in a dress,” she said.
The photographs were made during 2012 Zombie Walk and 2011 Mummers’ Parade.
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.
Royal St. John’s Regatta is the oldest running annual sporting event in North America. Some say it has been running since late 18th century, but the earliest documented one dates back to 1816. While races are fun, that’s not why majority of 20-30,000 people who visit the Regatta grounds every year actually go there. It’s about everything else that goes on at the time and about supporting your favourite community groups.
Our girls adore the Regatta and we take them every year. I usually make a few photos. These are from last year’s event and I might develop the film from this year on the weekend…
I think it’s kind of a photo links day. I haven’t done that in a while.
The photo above is from Memorial Day this July 1 when Newfoundlanders remember those who died during the First World War, but also other conflicts since.
Check out two essays on Burn:
- The first one is about rural America by Danny Wilcox Frazier.
- The second one Matt Lutton’s take on modern day Serbia. The comments accuse him of presenting a one-sided picture. Well, that’s true of any photography. This is Lutton’s take and I eagerly await somebody else’s.
I have also been goign through some of my flickr contacts and came upon this remarkable set from Vjekoslav Bobić on Adriatic tuna. His other photographs are beautiful, too.
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.
It’s hard to believe how fast are these two growing up! I am testing a new to me Pentax 6×7 camera and a couple of lenses. Both of these were made with a 90mm f1.8, which is normal lens on such a large negative.
This afternoon, while Miss F. is camping with the Girl Guides, M., Little Miss F and I went to see Brave. Go see it. Smart, complex female characters and a story that completely surprised me. It’s an emotional, beautifully done film.
Little Miss F. is five today. I don’t know where the time went. In this photo she is wearing her mom’s sweater – it’s her idea of a security blanket.
Croatian word of the day: pet five