Feb 112012
Fish Plant, view from Diamond Cove

Fish Plant, view from Diamond Cove, Diamond Cove NL

Since my last post, I have been thinking about a comment I received after one of my first posts for the Fish Plant Project, if not the first. In response to the word architecture, it was suggested that this was perhaps too good a word to use in relation to these buildings; this from an industrial designer who worked on fish plant installations around the province of Newfoundland. Is this word reserved for only the “statement” or “landmark” buildings?

Is Art History only about the few great masterpieces declared as such by an expert? This is certainly not the case today. As Art History continues to evolve into a Visual Culture approach the objects and ideas that can are explored and researched come from wider and wider sources. When you think about it, every single object we interact with was designed by n artist at one point or another in its development.

Fish Plant, Ramea NL

Fish Plant, view from ferry dock, Ramea NL

Architecture is about our interactions with the environment. The structures and spaces created by our species to augment and support the adaptations acquired over the millennia of life on Earth. It can be a record of our achievements and it can also just be those structures created to house quotidian activity or the products of this activity. They can be built in a way that will withstand the rigours of time and environment, but they can also be disposable, destined for a mostly singular purpose and only be designed to be relatively temporary. Design can be about beauty or purpose; in the best cases about both; but humans, being subjected to socio-economic pressures and a tendency to taking the path of least resistance, will tend to look at things to provide the most economic solutions with a view of time that rarely spans more than a generation or two.


Fish Plant, Diamond Cove NL

Fish Plant, view from ferry dock, Diamond Cove NL

The fish plant is an interesting example of finding form and function while keeping an eye on profit. The structures I photographed are essentially shells, solidly built but shells nonetheless. They are designed so that they can quickly respond to market demand and change processing capability efficiently. Inside the shell,the machines and workstations are engineered to be temporary and able to be dismantled and moved at a moment’s notice to respond to the demands of processing varied species of fish and seafood. In some cases the community was built around them (Burgeo, Woody Point) and in others they are built at the edges of the community (Rocky Harbour, Diamond Cove). One comment from a business woman in Rocky Harbour was interesting in this regard. She stated; “…it is great to have the jobs created by the plant but I am glad that it is not in my back yard”.


Fish Plant, Rocky Harbour NL

Fish Plant, Rocky Harbour NL

As I work on editing the series of photographs, I am noticing several common traits to these structures that are a response to certain physical constraints of the industry; towers to dry equipment, cranes to unload catches, ice making facilities. They seem to share several identical design features and are part of what makes a fish plant recognizable. I am interested in how different construction materials are used and what this might say about processors vision of their place in the community or of their role in developing social structures within these same communities. Needless to say, there seems to be a lack of involvement with the social fabric other than providing place for citizens to provide labour in exchange for wages. This is not a sustainable way for industry to work in this era of corporate responsibility. This can be seen in the way a plant is abandoned when the catches are low and landings are restructured to react to economies of scale; the structures are simply left there to be reclaimed by the land. It is also seen in the lack of decoration or “personality” given to the buildings; other than one example (Parson’s Pond) I could not see any evidence of community involvement in the look and shape of these spaces.

In the end, this is architecture. The questions that need to be considered is how can these, most often, enormous structures exist in communities as almost invisible and non-invested spaces, how can buildings this big exist outside of the very structure of the community that surrounds it? The more I look at it the more I get a sense that profit, as much on the part of the processors as of the labour force, guides the construction and use of fish plants rather than principles of creating and sustaining vibrant and dynamic centres of community engagement.

Fish Plant, Burgeo NL

Fish Plant, Burgeo NL

Feb 102012

I was working on the draft for my next Fish Plant blog posting when this arrived in my mailbox. I thought it would be interesting to digress from the usual format of showing a few images and waxing poetic on process to post this article as it addresses issues around interdisciplinary research projects like the CURRA; of which I am a participant. I have tried to embed the article on this post, if you don’t see it below, please go here.

The article articulates a dynamic discussion on how research is done. In my view, we have moved away from observing the world and given data and statistical analysis a primary role in understanding the phenomena and relationships that frame our view of the world in most, if not all, aspects of study. This is neither a positive or a negative, every tool we can assemble to try and understand our role in our socio-ecosystems should be used in unison.

But I do feel that we don’t lift our heads above our spreadsheets and deliverables long enough to actually smell and look at the roses. I like to think that this is where cultural producers and philosophers can contribute actively to accumulating and synthesizing a type of data that can bring observation back into the equation in a dynamic and original way. An aesthetic centred research practice does not necessarily exclude scientific investigation; it may well complicate things since it is not quantitative and its qualitative aspect can sometimes require a bit of work on the part of, for lack of a better word, stakeholders. These are examples of work where artists were given the latitude and freedom to explore, investigate and present findings in a manner that challenges and augments the assembling of data.


Feb 032012
Stack 2, Burnt Islands
Stack, Burnt Islands NL
Burnt Islands Fish Plant

From a distance, Burnt Islands

A recent report on the local CBC radio morning show is a good illustration of the kind of ideas I want this work to broach. You can have a listen to it here: http://bit.ly/ykRusL. One of my goals with this is to look at how the fish plant fits into the community, physically as well as socially.

As an artist, I have a certain belief that by looking at things in various ways we are able to gain new perspectives into issues and ideas that affect our lives. This can be a direct relationship, as in an illustration or description of an event [Massumi] or it can be more subtle, demanding attention from the viewer and an effort to connect the dots and create relationships between the represented subject matter and the reality around her/him. In this project I created fairly strict parameters influencing my decisions for composition, exposure and printing.

Burnt Islands

Interior of fish plant, Burnt Islands NL

The “New Topographers” was/is a grouping of photographers who believe that a photographer should try to develop strategies that allow for the most objective look at subject matter, exemplary of this group, and most influential in my work, is Lewis Baltz. Though globally there is a belief that photography is objective since it is done by a machine with the human simply pushing down on a button; it is impossible to separate the series of decisions leading to the click from the subjectivity of the photographer in any clear manner. The choice of angle, composition and exposure is part of a personal aesthetic that is formed by experience, not to mention opinion. If I am looking at a devastated landscape and I want to “expose” the power of the scene, I may choose to shoot lower to the ground, making the scene more overwhelming, and play with exposure to make the scene more dramatic, darkening skies and increasing contrast in the subject matter. Though the image is perceived as being machine made and thus objective, this is obviously not the case. A photograph is always more about the photographer than it is about the subject at this level.

Stack, Burnt Islands

Stack, Burnt Islands NL

The New Topographers would attempt to compose and expose in an effort to flatten or suppress their own identity as much as possible. There is a need for a mastery of craft and an ability to take a certain distance from one’s own preconceptions. It is a scientific approach, not quantitative, but qualitative; it is based on observation. It requires that the burden of dramatic effect be placed on the subject not in its representation. It is hard work and in stark contrast to the emotional language used in the CBC report, but as can be seen in the images attached to this post is still able relate the state and impact of these sites that are so important to many communities. Yes, indeed many of these fish plants are being left to disintegrate and become obsolete. But the question remains of trying to think about how this happens. Why are these industrial sites that are so important to communities allowed to be separated from the life of the community? Why aren’t they the source of corporate engagement with community? They are after all where most members of a community spend the most time together, even more time than is spent with family and friends.

Interior, Diamond Cove

Interior, Diamond Cove NL

Parson's Pond

Parson's Pond

May 182009

What a day! Finished printing last season’s photographs. All in all, there are about 130-140 eight by ten “work prints”. The time spent in the darkroom is a most interesting place to consider when doing work.

A portion of the time/space spent is within a tightly concentrated space, keeping track of seconds, minutes, time in, time out. Something quite interesting about this duration of time is that, while being intently conscious of seconds and minutes the mind looses track of “watch time”. The idea of loosing track of time by being fully immersed in its minutia is something I need to develop further, maybe video or sound (but that is for another blog).

Another part of this time/space, is where attention is a little more diffused, where something seen in a print in one of the baths stirs a thought, recalls another photograph. This is where the editing begins, and it is not always done in a very deliberate manner; it is simply a question of seeing the prints in the red light and submerged in liquid seems to make certain details, textures or compositions enter into a system of meanings that is absent in “perfect lighting”. It is probably a variation of the old design school trick of studying your compositions upside down in order to see if there are any problems.

Then there is the time/space of imagination. Ideas enter into a free association with the print in the tray. For an instant a multitude of cross-referencing images and sounds fill the imagination, it is the moment of possibility as such it is virtual.