Sunday, 11 September 2011

Newfoundland Postcards

Carbonear Train Station "Home" has always been a very challenging place to photograph for me, as it can be very difficult to "see" what you take for granted. I spent a week at home in Newfoundland with family, getting caught up with them and taking a few photographs. The outcome was this collection of images and a deep longing for home.

It strikes you as soon as you get off the plane: the smell of spruce, wet grass, bog, and a whole host of other wonderful smells that scream "outdoors". But it is when the wind hits me square in the face when I step outside the terminal building that I know I am truly home again.

I guess it's the wind I miss the most when I am away, so this time when I got up on the barrens near Butter Pot, I decided to try and create a shot that took in the wide, windswept landscape. I started with a black and white to emphasize the wind in the clouds.

Butter Pot 3

Not being totally happy with that, I then shot a colour image to play up the soft warm glow of the setting sun.

Butter Pot 2

I found this a bit better, but I didn't like the way my composition was anchored. Or rather, how it was not anchored. If you look in the photo above, you can see two rocks on the right-hand side. I walked down to them and created a panoramic composition using the bigger rock and the sun as an anchor. A larger, more detailed photograph is here.

Butter Pot Park

Done with the barrens for a while, it was up Highway 70 to Carbonear. As I was driving, I could see that the clouds and the sun were going to combine "just right" for a beautiful sunset, so I pulled off the road just up on the ridge overlooking Harbour Grace. The scene was beautiful, almost painterly.

Harbour Grace

Coming over the hill into Carbonear, I noticed a fantastic cloud formation over Carbonear Island. The light from the setting sun made it look just like the Aurora Borealis. I drove down to the beach and shot over the seawall to make this image.

Carbonear Island

Edit 2011-09-23
The whole time I was home I kept wanting (and talking) about taking a series of photographs of Carbonear Island. I loved the cloud formations that appeared over the island and behind it, out into Conception Bay. Finally, on my last day home, I went down to the point and took this shot. I forgot about the card in my camera until I was preparing for another shoot this past week-end, and hence this photo didn't make the blog post until now.

Carbonear Island (2)

I have a fascination with windows. To me, they aren't a way of letting light into a building, but rather they represent a portal through which we can observe. So when I finally settled in at home, I dug out the Ranger Quadra and made this image of Mom in her reading room, as taken from her balcony. The Quadra was inside the house and tungsten balanced.


A couple of days later, while walking on the beach at Salmon Cove Sands, I ran into Michele, an old friend from high school that I hadn't seen in decades. I got the idea of taking a photo of Michele and her hubby, Gord, at the beach at sunset. Peter, another old friend from high school, was there and helped me with the lighting. I strapped the Quadra and a soft box to Peter and we backed out into the sea to shoot into the setting sun.

Peter 1

You can see here that Peter started to sink down into the sand. He couldn't move because the water was so cold, his legs went numb. Also, the waves were getting higher as the tide was coming in. See the wet marks on his shorts? The waves were just short of reaching the Quadra's battery!

Peter 2

While the Quadra was safe (barely), I had my other camera slung over my shoulder with a long lens on it, when one of the waves hit the lens. The salt water didn't play nicely with the lens' electronics, but it was nothing that a quick trip to Nikon Repair and $1,100 couldn't fix. The main thing is that I was able to get a shot of Michele and Gord that I quite liked.

Gord and Michele

I was also able to get a shot of Peter, Susan, and their pup.

Peter and Susan

I ran into another old friend, Carol, while I was in Newfoundland.


Scott and I met on another island, Vancouver Island, more than thirty years ago while students at Pearson College. I was home from Toronto visiting family. The last time we had seen each other was in 1998 (Scott remembered the year, I could not) in Monterrey, Mexico. Now here we are 13 years later, two Newfoundlanders back on the island and "longing for home." Starting to sound like the lyrics of one of those sappy homesick Newfoundlander tunes! Note to self: Never allow a photographer - even an old friend - come within 12 inches of your nose with a camera lens ever again - make that 12 feet!

Carol had invited me to join her and her family in Port Rexton, Trinity Bay, where they were staying at a beautifully restored old house in Devil's Cove.

Devil's Cove House

The house reminded me of many homes I knew growing up in rural Newfoundland and staying there was as comfortable as wearing an old pair of slippers.

Devil's Cove House 5

Devils Cove House 2

Devil's Cove House

You may be wondering why there is no food in these photographs. It may be that Scott does not want you to know that he turned down fresh lobster for supper. He prefers it out of a can! (It's too much work getting it out of the shell.) I should add that he also refused dried "tom cods" for breakfast. A tom cod is a young cod. It's a favourite of mine for breakfast, a reminder of my grandparents and summers spent in Trinity Bay.

Outside the house was a delight as well, and I set out to capture as much as I could. I shot several panoramas from the hills above the house. Here is one showing the fog lifting from the harbour. A larger, more detailed photo is here. It's worth the time to open up the larger image and look at the details of the landscape. You will see the driving force of nature in things like the playground, which is overgrown and still bearing the scars of Hurricane Igor.

Port Rexton

I particularly liked the sunrises. A larger, more detailed photo is here.

Port Rexton Sunrise 5

I caught the sun just as it crested the horizon. A larger, more detailed photo is here.

Port Rexton Sunrise 2

This was the effect it had on the ocean to the right of my viewpoint.

Port Rexton Sunrise 3

Of course when shooting sunrises, it is always important to turn around and look at what the rising sun is painting with its light.

Port Rexton Sunrise 7

Carol took me for a hike on the highly rated Skerwink Trail, with its spectacular views of the coast line, historical settlements, and on occasion (but not this day), whales, eagles and icebergs.

Serwink Trail

I could see why the trail comes so highly recommended. Firstly, it is very well maintained by a group of volunteers. They keep the boardwalks and stairs in tip-top shape.

Skerwink Trail 3

Skerwink Trail 2

This is really important because the trail goes very close to the edge of some very steep cliffs.

Skerwink Trail 4

It is easy to slip on the wet grass, as this guy did when he went to the edge to take a photograph. Fortunately, he went down and not over.

Skerwink Trail 2

I should point out that there is a noticeable absence of shots taken close to the edge in Scott's photographs. It probably has something to do with his fear of heights. Whenever he got closer than a metre to the edge, I had to hold on to his belt! Of course, it did occur to me that if he slipped and fell, I would just go over the edge with him!

Secondly, the trail has some excellent viewpoints of the bay and the harbours in the area.

Port Rexton Sun

Here is a panoramic shot of Trinity. A larger, more detailed shot is here.

Trinity 2

Trinity is one of the oldest communities in Newfoundland, with earliest settlement dating back to the late 1500's. Richard Whitbourne held the first Admiralty Court in North America there in 1615. Having taken not one but two admiralty law courses in law school, I should perhaps have already known this, but I had to look it up in Kevin Major's history of Newfoundland and Labrador "As Near to Heaven by Sea". Kevin, by the way, was Scott's teacher in grade 8.

As we were looking at Trinity, a boat left the harbour to take tourists on a whale watching tour.


Besides walking the Skerwink Trail, you can also get an eyeful just walking around town. Carol wanted to see the Randell House, a 215 year-old "saltbox" house. It has been very nicely restored and like most Newfoundland homes, loud colours are always in fashion.


Not far from the Randell House was a piece of land Carol was interested in. I took this panoramic photograph for her to capture the view from the property. A larger, more detailed photograph is here.

Port Rexton Panorama

Back at the house, we decided we would take a run into Trinity to see the grave of one of Carol's ancestors, John Spurrell. As you can see, the headstone is almost 200 years old, which would put John into Trinity sometime in the 1700's. Note that the headstone spells his name differently. Different spellings of words and names were common in that era of no computer spell checking!

Carol and her Extra Great Grandfather


John Spurrell is my great, great, great, great grandfather on my mother's side. He was born in the Trinity area in 1750 and died in 1813. His parents arrived from the County of Somerset, England in 1748. I only learned of this gravesite and the family history a few years ago. My most vivid childhood memories - and many of my fondest - are of summers whiled away in Butter Cove in the southwest arm of Trinity Bay. It was John's youngest son, Moses, who was the first to settle there in 1845 with his wife and children, lured from Trinity by the rich fishing grounds. Butter Cove and Trinity Bay have always occupied a special place in my heart. Knowing that my family's history here goes back more than 250 years deepens exponentially my sense of connection to this part of Newfoundland, now symbolized by my great, great, great, great grandfather's head stone.

We went into St. Paul's Anglican Church, which is next to the graveyard. It is a lovely timber structure, not uncommon for old churches in Newfoundland. The wood made the atmosphere much warmer than the usual cold stone churches I shoot in Europe. A larger, more detailed photo is here.

Port Rexton Church

I have a thing for church pipe organs: I love their geometry and colours.


I also love church interior doors because I find them so mysterious: What lies beyond? Enlightenment?

Trinity Church Door

We were parked down near the main wharf, and on the wall behind us was a mural depicting life from a couple of centuries ago. I thought it would make for a nice backdrop for a portrait.

Carol and the Mural

Just across from the mural was a classic Newfoundland scene: a boat, wharf, and a stage.

Trinity Wharf

The red colour is not one that I remember seeing much of growing up, but it certainly is a common colour today, as you can see in this shot of a shed in Port Rexton.

Port Rexton 2

Okay, Scott may not remember the colour red from his childhood, but I seem to remember it as a popular colour for "stages", more of a brown red or rusty red. But then, the question of "What is a stage?" heated up the cable/phone lines between Toronto and Halifax, with both of us immediately reaching for close at hand copies of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, which unfortunately did not fully resolve the matter.

I was recently on a flight between Toronto and Buenos Aires with - as it turned out - 44 members of the Lady Cove Choir of St. John's. What are the chances? They were on their way to a choir festival in Patagonia. As we were going down the ramp, one lady turned to her travel companion and said, "Do you have a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English? That was my first clue I was not the only Newfoundlander on this flight.. I wanted to run up to her and say, "Yes, I do, I do, I have a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English!"

Leaving Trinity, we decided to drive into English Harbour. On the way we saw this hilarious sign warning people that "berry picking is not allowed" on the private land. Like most of Newfoundland, there were not a lot of fences, so you couldn't really tell where the private land began and Crown land ended. The fenced area you see is most likely a grave site or an old garden from years past. Given the "private" nature of the land, we didn't investigate further.

No Berrypicking

What struck me as funny is that the sign seemed so incongruous given Newfoundlanders' reputation for generosity and hospitality. At the same time, if those were my partridgeberries, I'd be pretty darned upset if someone else picked them!!!

Down into the community of English Harbour, we stopped at the beach. Looking back up from the beach at Carol, who was standing on the seawall, I could easily imagine a scene some 200 years earlier of someone like Carol, scanning the horizon looking for the fishermen returning from their day's work.

English Harbour Beach 2

English Harbour Beach

I thought I would end this post with some shots of Newfoundland wildflowers. To me, they represent the essence of Newfoundland and much like Newfoundlanders themselves, they are laid-back and confident. They don't grab you by the eyes. They are a hidden beauty that you have to seek out because they do not need to seek you out. Their power is the passage of time in a land where nature rules. No matter what sort of structure we humans try to impose on the landscape, time, nature, and the wildflowers rule in the end.

One of the things I found fascinating is that it's not just native flowers that grow "wild". I kept seeing flowers I've bought from a nursery to plant in my garden in Toronto, thriving in all their splendour by the side of the road in Newfoundland. These Foxgloves that we found not inside, but outside the fence in Port Rexton are a good example. Scott took a photograph of them as well which I think fits in with the theme of this "wildflower" mini-series.

Roadside Flowers 1


Roadside Flowers 2

I created a video using some of these photographs and in keeping with the feeling of longing for home, I asked Jade if I could use her wonderful performance of Danny Boy as the sound track. She graciously agreed and I think it really complements the slide show.
Be sure to change the settings to 1080p. The photographs have been sized for that resolution and they will not look correct unless you do.

A static slide show of all of these photographs is here.

Many of my images from Newfoundland are available to purchase as fine art prints from my web gallery.
EDIT: I have just published two folios of photographs of Newfoundland. Go here to buy a unique gift for someone special (or buy one for yourself!).

If you would like to read some of my other posts about Newfoundland, click here and use the "Older" and "Newer" links at the bottom to scroll through the posts.


ala.metamorfosis said...

Scott, thanks for sharing. The pictures with a story are certainly different to images alone, they become loaded with something that I would call "nice and warm".
I have never been to Newfoundland, but it certainly seems that nature prevails. While I saw the panoramic pictures, I could not help imagining that place in winter... It must be incredibly beautiful and "serious stuff" if someone gets lost (like myself, with a less than zero sense of orientation).
And yes, I think that, at the end, flowers prevail everywhere they can. Beautiful. Thanks again. Angélica

Daze said...

Wonderful photos...your love of home is oblivious throughout.

JayM said...

You better have a print done of that last Carbonear Island frame or you andI are gonna have words! How did you manage the flare on that one? Love the look with the diffraction star. Bold composition and bold treatment.