Early last month, November 1 to be precise, I published 2019 Newfoundland Travelogue covering my residency in Roger’s Cove, Newfoundland, and the trip there. It is presented as a travel journal, but rooted in a documentary style, formatted both as an eBook and a printed edition.
In my mind, the printed edition is the modern-day equivalent of the family albums we used to prepare in the days of film and printed pictures. My wife is very keen on the photo album; she has a shelf full of them covering the last 40+ years. Even though the on-screen image may present better, having more detail, fuller and brighter colour pallet, the physical book remains my preference. In part because you can touch it. Turning pages paces the experience. Its visibility on the shelf is both a reminder and makes it easily accessible. The book is a technology that will survive the ongoing evolution in the digital relm. This brings home to me the role of the photograph in family life. Pierre Bourdieu suggested that the photograph serves to integrate the family. This needs to be unpacked.
The family photo album serves as a record of events, an index to memories to be recalled on viewing. They situate people in place and time. They are usually skewed to the more pleasant events and in doing so might be thought of as one-sided, or even utopian. When I look through my family’s albums, I can see there are gaps, sometimes in the form of missing pictures, or years without a picture. There are unknown people; are they friends or relatives? Yet, the albums provide a connection to the past. I can see my grandparents when they were younger than I am now. It reminds me of events that happened within my lifetime. These events, with other family members depicted, or seeing my grandparents in their youth connects me with my generation and ones from the past, which might be the integration to which Bourdieu refers.
In my work as a documentary photographer,
- is it boastful? intersection of documentary and family album -> the intersection of fact and subjectivity? what is it to be conveyed (a family event or a travel event); what is it to be memorialized?
- a memory archive (and so what is it you want to remember?)
- am I ignoring an key purpose of the family album by excluding people or is it sufficient to know that I took the pictures? or is it about me and how I think about things?
My father had been critical of my work for its lack of pictures of people. I suspect his reasoning for including people was situated in the family photo album. The balance I face is to provide both a photo album as a record our travel as well as a record of observations. As a travelogue, the book includes photographs of the sea, landscapes, sun rises, hiking trails, as well as maps laying out our route to Newfoundland, and the area where we stayed for the month.
Via the documentary point of view, I wanted to touch on the cultural aspects of Newfoundland. But, you can’t photograph a culture; you need to find things that represent the culture that can be photographed. As a result, I included photographs of people’s homes and communities. Taking it a step further, I also looked at the things people do, such as fishing, processing cod, etc. To complement the imagery I included notes on the conversations I had with our neighbours in Roger’s Cove and area, as well as a series of videos intended to provide a broader sensory awareness.
Through this foundation, it is my hope is to develop the relationship between the environment and lifestyle; what nature affords, and how they co-evolve. Looking at the homes, for example, the photographs reflect the changes in the form and function of these buildings that have occurred over time. Reverse engineering the relationship with nature, my assertion is that these changes reflect changes in the environment. The change that stood out the most was the demise of the cod fishery that devastated the economy. While many people left the province, those who stayed found other areas of endeavour, notably the tourist industry, reflected in the change in function of some of the homes; their conversion into Bed & Breakfasts.
Cartwright, Lisa and Wolfson, Elizabeth (2015) Introduction: Affect at the Limits of Photography, Journal of Visual Culture 17(2), Sage Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore, Washington DC and Melbourne)
Waterton, E. (2019) More-than-representational landscapes, in P. Howard, I. Thompson, E. Waterton and M. Atha (eds) The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies (2nd Ed), Routledge: London, pp. 91-101.