Exploring Newfoundland in 15 pictures A journey with Keith Walsh and his Leica R8

As I prepared for my annual Christmas visit to my hometown in Newfoundland I began to think about change. It has been almost twenty-five years since I lived in Placentia and every time I visit I am struck by a few recurring thoughts. On the one hand the general feel and look of the place has remained fundamentally the same over the years. The terrain, winds, tides, clouds, and light, which so dominate the local atmosphere do change, but this is transitional and continuous. Tides rise and fall each day, the winds, sun, rain and snow cycle with the days and seasons. Yet even here there has been a subtle shift. A sense that the climate is changing. Violent late summer hurricanes and tropical storms have become almost annual events and the weather patterns of my youth have shifted, the sea has warmed.

On another level the iconic social fixtures of my youth have undergone an even greater shift. The institutions and architecture which once seemed so permanent have disappeared. Replaced by new structures which I’m sure would be quite jarring to the less frequent visitor. The schools, hospital and town hall demolished and replaced with modern structures. The towns familiar harbour entrance lift bridge, so iconic that it became featured on the municipal coat-of-arms in the 1980s, now sits, sadly rusted and decaying as its successor rises next to it.

On a socio-economic level the area has also seen profound change in the past thirty years. In the 80’s the town enjoyed a relatively comfortable prosperity via heavy industry (the nearby phosphorus processing plant), the traditional cod fishery and the Cold War (via the U.S. Naval Station at Argentia).

In rapid succession beginning at the end of the 80’s all this changed. The global shift away from phosphate-based detergents resulted in the closure of the phosphorous plant. At around the same time the Berlin Wall came down and the Cold War ended. As part of the peace dividend the United States began closing military facilities around the world, one of which was at Argentia. In between, the historic Newfoundland cod fishery was closed and the fishing industry virtually shut down overnight. These events threw the community into an economic crisis for the rest of the decade. If it weren’t for the service industry, and a cohort of workers who had reached pensionable age by the time of the closure, the community would have surely become a ghost town.

Then things turned again. The global commodities boom lead to the construction of a new nickel processing facility on the site of the former phosphorous plant. Newfoundland became “cool” and tourism boomed, the fishery shifted focus to high value shellfish and the oil industry promised new construction projects on the site of the former military base. Prosperity returned for about a decade and much change came with it. Then the tide went out again. The global economy cooled and the price of minerals and oil with it. Promised new projects were put on hold, the massive construction projects previously started wound down. Yet the renewed prosperity still lingers. This isn’t (yet) a replay of the 90’s.

All this was on my mind as I contemplated a new photography project. The sense of wanting to connect the past and present led me to the decision to use my Leica R8 and Ilford HP5 film. This would be an analog project, a quest to find fragments of memory and the past in the present day while looking at the present for what it is.

I arrived just after Christmas Day when the new winter had just begun. This is always a time of transitional and unpredictable weather in Newfoundland. One day may bring bright sun with the deepest blue sky then the next day rain or even 20 cm of snow. The winds blow almost constantly, pounding one with frozen sea spray or wet, sloppy snowflakes. Photography is always a challenge at this time of year yet I soon found my focus. At almost every corner a found objects whose state reflected constant change or triggered memories of an earlier time. One day I would see fast moving clouds reflected in the window of the coast guard station, a reminder of the ever-changing weather. Moving on I would see the surface rusted sea wall built to protect the town from the surging ocean that had forced the evacuation of my school around Christmas one year. New roads built to industrial projects, the timeless wharf side off-season routines of fishers, the view from my childhood bedroom. Almost too many memories and images when one looks carefully. I suspect this project will continue into the future.

About Keith:

I began taking photographs when my parents purchased a 35 mm camera. I experimented camera and quickly learned the basics of controlling shutter speed and aperture to the point where I was using the camera far more than my parents and soon become the “family photographer.” My interests soon expanded beyond snapshots of family and friends to nature and landscape photography, especially the forests and coastline where I grew up in Newfoundland. My interest in nature and landscape photography continued as I moved west to and my subjects became the coastlines and forests of British Columbia, Oregon and California. Over time and several cameras later I have begun to move from simply taking single images to creating sets of images based around a common theme and have attempted to create a more coherent photographic style.

Over the past few years of number of my photographs have been chosen for publication both in print (Doctor’s Review Magazine, Montreal, Quebec) and on the web (Peachpit.com (Peachpit Press, Berkley, USA.), Consumerist.com (Consumer Reports, Yonkers, NY), Henry’s Photo Club (Henrys Camera, Toronto, Ontario) and Pixiole (Montreal, Quebec). Most recently one of my images has been used by Riva Communications (Berlin, Germany) for printed materials for a medical conference.

To know more about Keith’s work, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram

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