Welcome to Pine Point

Welcome to Pine Point is a remarkable NFB digital project by Michael Simons and Paul Shoebridge (of the creative team The Goggles, known for their work with Adbusters among other projects).

According to the “about” page, this project started off as a book about the “death of photo albums as a way to house memory.”  Instead, they produced a haunting interactive documentary that reflects on place, memory, longing, loss, the stories we tell, and the formats and matrials we use to tell them.

I wish that in some ways it could have said more … I wanted more analytical “stuff” somewhere in there (links to footnote essays?) … but I also realized in watching this just how important the silences (or the minimal nature of the words on the screen) were to the overall impact of the narrative.  This is a story told in collages of visual imagery, combining photographs, moving images, maps, primary documents, kitschy objects — all in a way that affirms their respective materialities rather than denies them.  In the journey to Pine Point there are shades of Burtynsky, a critical awareness of “seeing like a state,” and some very sharp observations.

I found this tremendously moving – perhaps in no small part because these are my high school years too, although my small town is still standing, unlike Pine Point, which is a place destroyed and yet ultimately redeemed.

In my photography and public history course there is one class where I ask everyone to bring in a “photo album” to discuss.  Over time, more students are increasingly showing up with no album in hand; when everything is in digital format, “album” is a folder on a desktop or a stream in flickr.  I bring my own ‘baby book’ with my mother’s writing carefully documenting every morsel I ate, every step I took, a photo for every first day of school; it feels so much more tangible as a multidimensional aide-memoire.

It’s easy to lament this passing; it’s much harder to think about the new ways that memory and place interact in digital spaces, in new types of albums, in producing new stories out of old pictures.  The visual landscapes are layered with evocative aural landscapes (thank you Besnard Lakes!), and much more could be said about how image, text, and sound inter-relate in this project.

I recently quoted from Thomas King’s Massey Lectures in a presentation given at my alma mater, and it seems apt to repeat it here: “The truth about stories is that’s all we are.”  King’s purpose was rather different, but Welcome to Pine Point reaffirms the general sentiment in unexpected, but welcome, ways.

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