What was your best experience during this assignment?
Newfoundlanders are a reticent folk, but those in the small fishing village of La Poile are even more so. Some can't even bring themselves to speak with a stranger. So I felt lucky in finding this couple, Lewis and Gloria, to put me up in their guesthouse. But once there, I discovered that under the reserve was a real warmth and generosity. Gloria, who told me it was the first time she'd ever met a stranger, not only went out of her way to do my laundry, but seemed to take real pleasure in cooking for me. She was always nervous about her cooking, and I was always telling her not to worry; I loved her food. Well, so did her husband—more than usual, it seems. He was sad when I had to leave because he'd never had such great food as when I was there.
What was your worst experience during this assignment?
One day while in La Poile, the ferry brought in the body of an old man in a casket. Being a native son of the village, he wished to be buried there. I went to his family and asked if I might take a few pictures. For me, this was important coverage because it seemed to represent the problem of so many communities in Newfoundland: The old people die, and the young leave and don't come back. What I saw in La Poile seemed to be a vanishing way of life. So they said "Okay. You can take pictures outside the church, but not inside." After the ceremony, I went outside and got ready to photograph. While I was shooting, a man in the funeral cortege shouted at me, "Don't you have any respect for the dead?" What could I do? I'd been given permission. But you can't stop and argue in the middle of a funeral. So I just had to endure it. If I'd had a mouse hole to crawl into, I would have.
What was the oddest experience you encountered during this assignment?
As the fishing industry declines, many Newfoundlanders are being forced to leave home for work elsewhere in Canada, especially in the oil-booming west. This can be rough for people who've led such an isolated life as these folks. One fellow, a very tough fisherman who still goes out on his boat when he's home, was totally unnerved by the experience of flying. So much so, he said, that he actually carried a parachute with him whenever he boarded a plane. He just wanted to be prepared. Amen.