One Hope?

Yesterday, I read in a photography blog, about «how to work a scene». It was really, really interesting, and highly recommended reading. It made me think of something I often experience in photography — I see something, have a feeling of «I know there is a picture in there somewhere», but never manage to frame it.

Now, that has only partly to do with the picture you see here. This is a section of Saint John’s ‘Old North End’, and it’s a sad part. I’ve taken a countless number of pictures from there, but still … never managed to convey the feeling of utter hopelessness I get there.

That’s something different from what he wrote in the photography blog, because here, it’s an emotion. I know I can do it, and I will, some day. It’s partly also due to the fact that I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures there with all the people sitting outside on the steps.

Before I started typing up this blog, I looked through my photos tagged ‘old north end’, trying to show you what it’s really like, but I find they all look ‘too nice’ (!).

There are some nice, well taken care of, buildings too, with people who have probably lived there all their lives, but they are few, and hardly noticeable in all this mess. My partner, who grew up in this part of Saint John, remembers North End as a lively, sprawling neighbourhood, full of people and businesses. Now it’s more like a fire trap — it must be the firefighters’ nightmare.

The above is the smoke, coming out of the latest fire on Victoria Street, on May 18 this year — a fire that took two dozen firefighters several hours to contain.

I’m just reading in the news now, that they’re finally going to take the wrecking ball to what remains of that building.

I wrote that I wanted to convey the hopelessness I feel, going through North End. This is personal — perhaps not all people see it as hopeless. The politicians make a lot of talk about what should be done but I can’t say that I’ve heard any ideas with any kind of substance to them and I don’t have any myself. Yesterday, one of them said that each time they take down a derelict building, something has to be done about the vacant lot — turned into a park or recreational space. Yeah, fine … then all of north end would end up one, huge park, and there are plenty of parks in Saint John.

Some buildings, you can still see how fine and grand they once were … buildings that probably still could be saved by someone with a lot of money and optimism. I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist — I just don’t see it happening any time soon. I see the sneakers, hanging on power lines, I see young girls pushing baby carriages … girls who are almost children themselves. The number of teenage pregnancies here is overwhelming — one of the largest in Canada. Will these children ever make it out of North End?

Same building, before the fire. The plastic Santa made it, by the way!

These are my thoughts and feelings about Saint John’s Old North End. I can’t say I have any ideas or solutions to this. It just makes me depressed to see this poverty stricken section of this city, the food bank with its barred windows, the numerous, boarded up buildings that no one bothers about … buildings that you really don’t know who’s in there — raccoons or homeless people?! ‘Luckily’  the fire station is located in the very midst of all this.

23 Replies to “One Hope?”

  1. Maybe you should try to photograph the place on a cloudy & rainy day to catch some “hopelessness”? Probably the people won’t be sitting outside then, so you can feel more comfortable when you photograph the place.

    1. Yes, and there is one part of a street that I have in mind. I should go there right now, when the fog is very dense. This is the one part where I actually WOULD like to take pictures of people — normally I avoid that. But here, it would add to the hopelessness.

  2. Hi,
    It is very sad to see a place go like this, I suppose it is the times we are living in, but I wonder what happened to all the businesses that used to employ the people, when there is no work there is no choice but to move on.
    I did smile about the plastic Santa, that is just amazing that it survived the fire. 🙂

    1. Mags,
      I guess lots of people moved away from the Maritime provinces … up to Ontario and places like that, where the money was. This has also resulted in a rather ageing population…

  3. Sometimes words are easier to express hopelessness than ‘photos – especially intruding in people’s private space. I think that’s one of the problems with ‘street photography’ or ‘people photography’.

    We don’t have to ask animals or flowers if it is ok, or feel embarrassed for making them a photographic object but capturing people struggling with a hard life?

    Enjoyed reading the link by the way, interesting comments about basic composition.

    1. Yes, ‘people photography’ has never appealed to me and I avoid it regardless of where or what it is.
      About the link; glad you liked it … he’s really good.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. This is not unlike many areas in Detroit, Flint or Pontiac here in Michigan. All of which I have been in, lived near and had experiences with in years past. I see the decline of these cities and it stinks. I hope those in a position to help can do so for your city.

    1. I’ve seen a lot of photos from those areas in Detroit. A photographer who I’ve come across online, travel to the biggest cities in the States and takes pictures … I do remember those ones from Detroit. Sad..

      1. It stinks doesn’t it. Lansing (state capital) is trying to help with an emergency manager, but the city council is doing everything possible to trip up the governor and the mayor of Detroit. Dumb! At this point, why not chisel the city off and let it float down the river to the Atlantic!

  5. Somebody there doesn’t feel hopeless though…hence the cheery Santa. Someone is hoping for the happiness that Santa embodies…and sometimes a scene like this can really get to the viewer.

    1. Angh,
      Yes, I guess someone had hope, long time ago. That Santa was there when we moved here four years ago, and the building was already vacant..

  6. Lots of places like that in the States – Stockton CA latests to declare bankruptcy – Detroit and much of Michagan and the only idea they have is to appoint a dictator and disenfranchise the majority African-American population (don’t get me started)..it is difficult to really portray hopelessness which is after all a human feeling without people. Everything needs to fall into place, the light, the weather, the right building or vacant lot or…but keep trying. I know you will get it.
    Off to check your link.

    1. Yes, what I have in mind probably takes people. We’ll see.
      It’s hard to think of solutions to places like this. The owners of the buildings, they can’t even get a hold of. I read about some by-law, where, if the owner didn’t clean up their act, the city would be allowed to take them down. But wrecking costs money too, and this city is more or less on the verge of bankruptcy. Besides … then the whole North End would turn into one big, huge park! 🙂

  7. Interesting article, yes. As a really old elder, I have to laugh when I hear about bending down, lying down, shooting up from lying down. My camera has to go through the motions, cause I can’t any more!
    I’m not a “people photographer” either. I do love wonderful shots, but to me they’re always enriched by text, and in this post your text drives the photos. Thought-provoking and sorrowful and provocative — and what to do about it?
    Well done, Rebekah.

    1. ‘Lying down, shooting up’, brings to mind a day in Fredericton two years ago. It was so HOT, I thought it would be my last day on this Earth. I was lying down in the grass, shooting an Anglican cathedral there. I could hardly get up. Was thinking of just staying there, letting everything go away. I didn’t complain or anything, to my company … I kept quiet, but I learned afterwards that she’d been really worried.

      I so admire the ones who shoot people … I just feel uncomfortable. Fur and feathers … that’s my favourite subject 🙂

      Yes, North End is saddening and I don’t know … most solutions I try to think about just mean moving the problem elsewhere.

  8. Something I’ve learned in the photograph challenge I’ve embarked on is that photography is about point of view more than anything else. Each shot is a reflection of the artist framing the shot and that is what tells the story. 🙂 Your photographs are not “too nice” – they are you and I love looking at them.

    1. So true — it’s very much about the point of view. That was what I found so interesting to see in that guy’s post. — how he worked on it. I really meant, that the pictures I took were ‘too nice’ to really convey the feeling of the place … the ugliness of it all 🙂

  9. I always hope that places like this can be revitalised and be great again. There is one area of Denver I have driven through. The houses in their day were huge gorgeous homes. Must have been a wealthy area. Now it is all downtrodden. So sad. In Topeka KS they restored the railroad station. A museum on the second story and art gallery on the ground level. It is in a run down area of town and they hope the train station will help bring it back to life. Have not been there but heard it is working.

    I do not know about Canada, but sneakers hanging over electrical wires here is gang sign.

    I am always cautious taking photos when there are people around. I love photos of flowers and some yards here are gorgeous. But I am watchful for people.

    1. I’ve been told it’s something drug related … about the sneakers. Today, the wrecking ball was at work — two of those buildings came down.. It’s sad, but it’s better they’re down than the state they were in..

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