St. George is a fishing town of 2,800 people and not a single traffic light. It is situated on the Bay of Fundy in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. The magnificent bay is known for the highest tides on earth, frigid waters, and dramatic skies. The short maritime summers with long evenings are cherished as a time for gathering around bonfires as they have been for generations.
St. George’s economy is based on its thriving farm raised salmon industry. To give you a sense of the scale, Cooke Aquaculture annually sells more than 160 million pounds of Atlantic Salmon. Because the traditional catch of herring or cod have diminished, independent fishermen now meet the demands of expanding global markets by scuba diving for sea urchins, harvesting periwinkles and seaweed, and hauling in lobsters.
Being a photographer and new to the Bay of Fundy, I documented our family adventures in this landscape. As friends and neighbors shared antidotes about their home, I recognized it was in flux, and decided to create a more enduring document to speak to the collective memory of the people and the industries of St. George and New Brunswick.
I will share a few stories to describe how the sense of place influenced me to create the photographic series “St. George”.
We were outsiders when we arrived the first summer in St. George, New Brunswick, Canada. One of our first stops was to look for a coffee table book about the region. The only one in St. Andrews was Silver Harvest: The Fundy Weirmen’s Story by Richard Wilbur and Ernest Wentworth (1986) which contains portraits of fishermen and photographs of their weirs. At the time I didn’t even know what a weir was, and was unaware of the history of weir fishing in New Brunswick.
Over many summers, I began learning about our new community. Our friends introduced us to the local riches: farm-raised salmon, herring (sardines) caught in traditional fishing weirs, cold smoked salmon, scallops, lobster and mackerel. We were less enthusiastic about the periwinkles and sea urchins, delicacies in other parts of the world, but we savored the blueberries, cranberries, rhubarb, relishes–and of course the 15 varieties of pie at the Country Market in St. George.
We became friends with our neighbor Warrick’s family. He is a weir fisherman. Dinner would be cut short for him to go and see if herring had filled his weir. And so we learned about setting the twine, the habits of the herring, and the industrial aspects of the sardine industry, not to mention the challenges of Warrick keeping his boat in tip top shape. Meanwhile other friends shared the history of the declining herring weirs, and the rise of farm-raised salmon.
This photographic body of work is a result of hearing their stories about the changes in their community. I wanted to create a more enduring document to speak to the collective memory of the people and the industries of St. George and New Brunswick. Hopefully it will become a document that residents will share while telling their stories to future generations.
If you see yourself as a documentarian, what drives you to document?
Documentary photography came easy to me. I was 17, and without knowing it, I created my first photo essay “The Horse Racing Track.” No one taught me, but I “read” countless photo essays in Life Magazine and National Geographic. I remember thinking about telling a story as I photographed that day: the purchasing of tickets, the grandstand, the policemen on alert, bettors watching the “board” to see if they won. Last, I photographed the horses to complete the narrative, using a slow shutter speed to capture the sense of motion. This was all shot on black and white film, so I did not have too many shots, and never knew what I had “in the can” (film canister) until I developed it.
When I meet people, I easily strike up a conversation and learn about their lives. My personal photographic documentary projects often begin by speaking to people, then relating their stories, and creating a sense of place as I photograph them and their relationship to the place in which they live.
In my early career, I photographed documentary assignments for editorial publications and non-profits. I like to photograph people, either a portrait, or people engaged in activities, or a landscape that suggests a human presence. One client that influenced my photography in New Brunswick was Land and People the publication of The Trust for Public Land, a conservation group. They assigned me to photograph volunteers enjoying the recently acquired parcels usually woods and open fields. Once a situation is set up, spontaneity takes over as I look to capture gestures, interactions or light.
What current projects are you working on?
I am working on two new series.
“Crustaceans” is a series of portraits of girls holding lobsters with the Bay of Fundy in the background. What struck me in the photographs is the girls relationship with this spiny sharp clawed creature. The power dynamic is interesting, because, on one level, the lobsters seem powerful – but ultimately, they’re being eaten for dinner.
“turq”, a Meditation
The day that I realized that I could meditate while walking was liberating. On my daily strolls along the shores of the Bay of Fundy, I am continually awed by the magnificence beneath my every step. On these walks I hunt for treasure. My favorite find is the turquoise sea glass, perhaps because they are more difficult to find, but also because it was my Mom’s favorite color. She referred to it as “turq”.
“Turq” is my point of reference to tell the viewer about the land that I love. In each photograph, I have placed a piece of turquoise sea glass in a specific place on the land to capture the light and to tell the story of the variety that is contained in just a few square miles.
How do you see your work changing or developing?
I feel that I am moving from documenting the community and industries of St. George to working more conceptually. “St George” unfolded slowly. The biggest challenge still is determining which story I want to tell, and how to edit the work accordingly. This is in contrast to “Crustaceans,” which I expanded over the last two summers, although the seed of it began in 2006. I developed and photographed “’turq’, a Meditation series,” in the fall of 2016. The series are ready for exhibition.
Artist website: susanlapides.com