Finished: Oct. 15, 2012
First Published: Oct. 1, 2012
Publisher: John Gosslee Books
Genre: photo-documentary, coffee table book, fishing industry, Newfoundland
First sentence: "When you're twenty years ahead of the curve, it really doesn't matter that you're right."
Publisher's Summary: "Arn? Narn. is photographer Bruce Meisterman s first book. Arn? Narn. chronicles Canada s Newfoundland Island fishing culture on the road to its unfortunate demise. The black and white photography and interviews conducted by Meisterman showcase a community earmarked by minimalist living and deep community bonds, but broken by the cod's disappearance."
Bruce Meisterman is a photographer and the beauty of this book is in the photography. The text is sparse. Each chapter starts with a minimal yet informative narrative on topic and then the often full page photographs tell the rest of the story. Meisterman tells the story of the end of cod fishing in Newfoundland, the moratorium put on the industry in 1996 and the effect that has had on the fishing industry and the people. He explains that fishing is not just an industry to Newfoundlanders but a way of life born into these island people, a cultural heritage that defines their history, art, music, dance and craft. He paints a grim picture that is mostly blamed on over-fishing, government mismanagement, and greed. But as anyone knows who has visited Newfoundland (I haven't) or knows a "Newfie" (I've known several) they can tell you that Newfoundlanders are not a downhearted people. They are down-to-earth people with no pretensions, full of the joy of life with a sense of humour and love of the folk arts born into them. Meisterman also tries to convey this in his book and succeeds to a point.
The choice of black and white photography both aids and hinders the author's objectives. The desolate, stark countryside is powerfully represented in this medium, especially the winter scenes with the snow and ice along with the sandy shores of the lonely beaches and yet the beauty of the land is missing when we cannot see the green of the foliage and colours of wildflowers growing close to the ground on the rock. The death of the fishing industry is brought home with the b/w photos of clapboard homes, churches and graveyards and yet the life essence of the people is missing when we cannot see the bright colours used to paint houses, lighthouses, murals and folk art signs. Also the revelry of a kitchen party is missing when shown in black and white and yet the contrast between the joy of the people and the poverty of the economy is marked in this medium. An enchanting book with a sad tale told with optimism, but one that does not end on a sad note.
"Even now, Newfoundland is moving into its new reality...The Newfoundland spirit is anything if not indomitable. A people who came to live at terms with the sea will find their way here as well."