Thursday, August 15, 2013

Sagona Island

Like many other locations on this journey, I came to Sagona Island quite by a series of accidents, coincidences and circumstances. I had originally planned to visit Brunette Island, a larger, much-storied place, so I headed to Harbour Breton, which is the nearest significant community. On the way I was slowed by weather - I delayed leaving Shoal Harbour for a day due to a non-stop heavy rain. When I finally got on the road it took three full days to get there - an epic 140km eight hour bike ride down the Burin Peninsula, two ferries and an overnight stay in the isolated community of Rencontre East, and then a 60km ride over the hilliest highway I have ever seen.

The next day I spent negotiating departure times and prices with Randall, a fisherman who agreed to take me out the bay, and the weather was still very unsettled so I lost a day there. At this point my other life came into play as well - I had booked a plane ticket from Deer Lake to Regina, where I am starting a new job. By the time everything came together I really only had a few more days of adventure left available to me. Randall told me about Sagona and it seemed like a much more fitting option than going to Brunette. Brunette is big - big enough to support caribou, moose, and an introduced herd of buffalo, and I simply felt like I could not do justice to the place by being there for only one or two days. (This account by Martin Connelly of the buffalo experiment is a must read). On the away out I decided to leave it for a future visit.

Sagona, on the other hand, is small - so small that it's difficult to imagine it at its apex with dozens of families living there. There is a large, sheltered harbour, but the island itself is little more than a narrow outline of rock wrapped around that harbour. The land is steep with rocky peaks surrounding the gut like gnarly teeth in a mouth trying to glug down a swallow of water. The psychological impression of the place is like an optical illusion, an inversion of positive and negative where the importance of the sea overwhelms the insignificance of the land.

It is perhaps this physical reality that makes Sagona an archetype for the settlement-resettlement story. More than any other place I have visited during this project, Sagona feels like a microcosmic experiment, a temporary stony fishing vessel to be inhabited only when the economic and ecological conditions are just so. And the actual story of Sagona's resettlement is more excruciating than any other I have heard - the town was depressed by the early-century decline of the inshore fishery, bereft of other natural resources (not even a tree left for a stick of firewood), and, as an interpretive panel in Harbour Breton states, a storm that was "the final straw."

"Sagona was home, but Simeon Snook's death during the storm on August 15, 1968 made up most people's minds to finally go. Poor Simeon - going between two boats when he was struck by lightning. He left 16 children. We had a school but no doctor. Everyone was holed up in their homes until the storm passed. It was the worst people had seen in a generation. That was it. Twenty families left for Harbour Breton and other places."

I met several of Simeon Snook's descendants during my few days in the area. The night before I went to Sagona there was a terrifying electrical storm over my campsite. The community is gone, but something ineffable remains.

Sagona is riddled with artifacts of ancient human inhabitation. The beaches are littered with shards, there are dozens of homes collapsed into piles of grey planks, and uniquely among the places I have visited, the entire harbour is ringed with hand-laid sandstone piers.

There is also a lighthouse, and though it is newer than the other buildings in the community it has also fallen into complete disrepair.

Despite all the wonderful distractions, I did make some sculptures. Here is something I made with bricks from the beach. The morning I left the island it was too foggy to see across the harbour, so the last I saw it was still standing as the water was rising around it.

I also paved this rock with shards. The tides came and went over night, but the harbour is very sheltered and it was a calm night so there was barely a discernible change.

This is a line of shards perpendicular to the shore - the idea was that as the tide came in they would scatter from the bottom up to the top in a sort of orderly fashion. But it soon became apparent that that just wasn't going to happen - the harbour was way too calm. Instead, I took advantage of being able to see the line as it was refracted by the amazingly clear water. Shots where the tide is lowest were refracted the least, and shots where the tide is higher are much more exaggerated.

This has turned into a couple of interesting visuals. First, I made this animation in which the you can see the line appear to move underwater as the water rises and the angle of refraction changes:

And I made this image of all those frames stacked on top of each other. I love how the line just becomes more and more diffuse in the deeper water.

I left the line just like that overnight, and when I woke up the next morning I had visitors. Some fishermen had come to beach their boat so they could clean the seaweed and mussels from the bottom. While the tide hadn't disturbed my arrangement of shards, I was happy to see that these guys had walked over them and kicked them around a little.

I went about my business for the rest of the day, but had supper with the fishermen and slept on their boat that night. The next morning they gave me a lift back to Harbour Breton.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tourist Photos

I promised myself I wouldn't get caught up in making tourist or travel photos during this project of mine. I've done that before, and it's just not how I want to spend my time and energy this go around. But (and you knew there was a "but" coming) I'm only human, and there are places I've been this summer that are just beyond belief. Seriously amazing profound places. There's no way a photo can capture what I've experienced in these places - solitude, isolation, history, etc. But that's how we document things, so that's how I'm going to show it to you.

So, here, for your pleasure, are some photomerged panoramas of a few places.

Sandy Point

Grand Bruit

La Poile

Little Bay Islands

Peckford Island

Fair Island

Sagona Island

Saturday, August 3, 2013

3D Shard

Just for fun, here's a flicker 3D image of a shard. Not the best one out there, but still kinda neat.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Real Astronomy

I did finally get a chance to do some real astronomy. On Peckford Island I had the luxury of a cabin to sleep in and a breezy beach to photograph from, which kept the discomforts of sleeping on the ground and the mosquitos to a minimum. It was also amazingly dark and clear out there, so I really enjoyed my night.

First I did some images of the Milky Way along with the island's lighthouse. I was able to line up the scenery so that it looks like the Milky Way is beaming out of the lighthouse:

The thing I really like about this image is that it captures an asterism known as The Teapot. An asterism is an arrangement of stars that resembles some object, but is not an official constellation. An example of an asterism you are probably familiar with is the Big Dipper, which is just a part of the constellation Ursa Major. In the animation below I've drawn some lines joining up the stars in The Teapot (which is actually the constellation Sagittarius) so that you can easily see it. The amazing thing about The Teapot is that it looks like the Milky Way is pouring out of the spout. A great photo opportunity considering the nature of my journey.

I was concentrating so much on shooting these images that I wasn't really paying attention to what was going on around me. When I turned to look back towards the north I was delighted to see a great show of aurora happening Right behind Darren's cabin. I didn't get the best photos, and the aurora faded quickly, but I'm pretty happy with this one:

After the aurora stopped I made a few last shots of some cabins with stars in the background. I illuminated the cabins with my flashlight while the camera was on a long-exposure setting to capture the sky as well:

Friday, July 26, 2013

Fair Island

On the way from Little Bay Islands I stopped for a night to visit Long Island, a larger island with several settlements just a 5 minute ferry ride from the mainland. I didn't intend to stop long, or make any art while there, but rather to just have a look around and get a sense of the place. While I was grabbing some snacks at the only convenience store a guy showed up on his quad to pick up smokes and food. He saw me, introduced himself as Bob, and invited me over to his place for a chat and a drink. "Past the post office, then turn right and down over the hill." I told him I planned on seeing the whole island, but that if I got back before dark I would stop in. "I'm not from here either," he left me with as he drove away.

Bob turned out to be an interesting fellow. At the age of 19 he became a firefighter in St. John's, working shifts at the various departments throughout the city. At the age of 44 he had his 25 years put in, his family raised and was eligible for retirement with a pension. Separated from his wife, he bought a fibreglass boat, then a tiny fishing shed in a hidden cove on Long Island for $350. For the past ten years he's spent 10 months a year living in that shed-turned-home. Later he commissioned a new wooden boat, because, in his words, "the fibreglass never did feel right."

He enjoyed hearing about my travels and my project, and was determined to give me some assistance. "Paul's Island, in Bonavista Bay, is covered with shards end to end." I like getting local knowledge in this little mission of mine. We talked until the twilight faded, when I retreated to the campsite I had scouted out earlier.

So, while it was never on my itinerary to visit Bonavista Bay it was perhaps inevitable that I did. Stopping at the only restaurant in Centreville I scoffed down a meal before asking the waitress whether she knew anyone who might take me out there. Not twenty minutes later her next door neighbour, Gary, showed up to see me. We negotiated a price and agreed to leave first thing in the morning.

It's only 10km to Paul's Island, but it was evident that Gary just loves being on the water, and the trip turned into a two hour tour. We went to Silver Island, Pork Island, Sydney Cove, Lewis Island, Paul's Island and Fair Island. Bob was right, there were shards on Paul's Island, but there were even more on Fair Island, so that's where I stayed.

There was little beach to speak of on Fair Island, just smooth granite sloping down into the sea. But sand gathered in the cracks between the rocks, and on top of the sand was a dizzying constellation of shards of all shapes and colours.

I made a few arrangements to be swept away by the tide, like this one on a slipway:

And this one to be swept into a hollow in the rock:

But on this trip I was ultimately more interested in making layered images of shards underwater like those I posted in the previous post.

Fair Island was a strange place to be - it was, after the solitude of Peckford Island, like a metropolis. All the islands in Bonavista Bay, or certainly all the ones that I saw, were covered with cabins and buzzing with activity, and Fair Island seemed to be the busiest of them all. I was there on a weekend, which added to the crowd, and I got invited around for drinks and tunes. Lots of the cabin goers were born on Fair Island, and had vivid stories about the old days before resettlement, which I obviously enjoyed.