Scarlet runners and garlic, gas flares and roadkill are just some of the subjects of more than 30 photo-stories being shared by rural New Brunswickers about their home.
Last summer, in 2019, six residents of rural southern New Brunswick concerned about clearcutting, spraying the forest, mining, and proposals to frack for shale gas came together to discuss their community’s challenges as well as their aspirations for the places they live through a form of visual storytelling called photovoice.
Photovoice gives participants the opportunity to collectively document, reflect and express thoughts on their lives, experiences and the conditions of their community, both positive and negative, through photographs. Furthermore, photovoice has the potential to reach and influence the public and policy makers in powerful ways that words alone sometimes cannot.
The participants, from Penobsquis, Sussex, Barnesville, Petitcodiac and Hillsborough, produced a series of photo-stories that share their perspectives as rural dwellers on what is special about their homes and “what keeps them up at night.”
Beth Nixon of Penobsquis took photographs of the landscape, noting the beauty of her home but also the changes that have occurred there over the years, some of which worry her like air pollution.
Nixon took a photograph of rolling hills of hay and pointed out the gas well pad and flaring found there today. “People in New Brunswick don’t realize how beautiful it is here. I started taking pictures and going for walks because I was fighting for the environment and I didn’t think I was appreciating it enough,” said Nixon who has worked on protecting her community from harmful effects of potash mining and gas production.
Stephanie Coburn, a farmer from the Head of Millstream, a small community outside of Sussex, took a photograph of the garlic that she had grown: “This photo of garlic signifies my optimism about local agriculture and feeding ourselves in New Brunswick. At the moment, we import more than 95% of our food from other places!”
Coburn wants New Brunswickers to grow more of their own food, “tomatoes, onions, squash, broccoli, cabbage, peas and beans.”
Teri McMackin, a village councilor from Petitcodiac and mother of a young son, is enthusiastic about fostering inter-generational activities in her community. She took photographs of her community’s vibrant market and colourful murals that celebrate her community’s history.
“The market for me is my happy place and gives me a sense of pride because I’m part of a fantastic team that created it,” said McMackin.
Cheryl Johnson, a teacher from Barnesville, was concerned about the conditions of the roads in her community and other lacking infrastructure such as Internet access. Johnson showed a photograph of a forested winding road and said, “This picture looks so beautiful, but looks can be deceiving. This spot is a cell phone dead zone, so if an accident happens people have to walk to the nearest house to call for help that might not arrive for hours. Our rural roads are dangerous.”
Deborah Carr, a writer from Hillsborough, took beautiful photographs of the Fundy area as well as clearcuts.
“A friend of mine has a small airplane and sometimes in the fall, we fly over Albert County to see the colours. The contours of the landscape, the subtle and not-so-subtle beauty of it all, instills a sense of awe. Sometimes, it brings tears to my eyes, because I can’t believe I get to live in a place like this,” said Carr.
Carr, who is with Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County (WEPAC), a grassroots group formed to defend the region from fracking for shale gas–and which recently led a community campaign to protect Shepody Mountain from industrial timber harvesting–says sometimes she feels overwhelmed but remains hopeful for the place she calls home: traditional Mi’kmaq territory celebrated worldwide for its natural wonders.
“Then there’s climate change. Rising seas will flood our coastal regions and marshlands, breech the dykes, cover our roads. Some days, I feel like this little warbler. I’m hanging on, but the spread is getting wider all the time. But then hope seeps in. Because despite the industrial onslaught, people have come together,” said Carr.
Rick Roth, from Sussex who has been involved in anti-shale gas resistance, took a photograph of scarlet runners, a strikingly beautiful flower, outside of an old shingled barn to talk about the resilience of New Brunswickers.
“Here scarlet runners proudly raise themselves above the untidy tangle on the ground. In the background, the somber mood of a ramshackle barn contrasts sharply with the upbeat note struck by the bright red blooms. Many of us drive beater cars: we are happy without annual flights fleeing New Brunswick winters to bask in warmer climes. We live modestly, but in our own way, well. As I see it, scarlet flowers in a messy garden illustrate precisely how we may enjoy satisfying lives, regardless of circumstance,” said Roth.
The first exhibition of the body of work produced by these rural champions occurred at a panel called, “Women Resisting Extractivism,” on Sept. 27, 2019 at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. The panel assembled scholar-activists who are working on pressing resource extraction issues of our time – including open-pit mines, massive tailings dams to hold massive amounts of mine waste, mountain top coal removal, gas storage in salt caverns, and fracking for shale gas.
To a packed room of students, faculty members and community members who had traveled from across the Maritimes, Ramona Nicholas, University of New Brunswick Knowledge Keeper, Shannon Bell, Virgina Tech Sociology Professor and Sherry Pictou, Mount Saint Vincent University Women’s Studies Professor explored how scholars can contribute to a more just world in the face of runaway resource extraction and climate change and deepening inequalities.
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Tracy Glynn facilitated the photovoice project as part of her doctoral research with RAVEN.