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Student View

Preserving a part of our past

By Catherine Burgess

If you travel throughout the world, you’ll find that every region has its share of empty, dilapidated buildings which once served as homes. But our province is home to a rather impressive collection of the structures, many of which are relics from the resettlement era. They represent a part of our past, our culture, and our heritage. Shouldn’t they be preserved?

Thankfully, some people think these should be upheld, even if it is only through a digital image. MUN Folklore student Matt Reynolds is a photographer who has devoted time to exploring these places, documenting them through photography.

For Matt, his project, Lost and Forgotten Newfoundland, grew over the years as people advised him of abandoned areas with empty structures waiting to be photographed. Since beginning the project four years ago, Matt has been witness to some of the Avalon’s most remarkable “lost and forgotten” spaces, packed with history and character.

His photography process generally begins with research – whether via internet or by contacting knowledgeable folks – before heading out, usually with a fellow photographer, to investigate a location. Most of Matt’s subjects are in and around the city, although he has taken an occasional day trip “across” the Avalon Peninsula, looking for an eye-catching structure.

Matt says that while it is rare to discover the true history behind an abandoned place, people he meets on his excursions are always willing to give their personal stories. As I sat down with Matt to discuss his photography, he mentioned that he had just received word, only hours prior to our meeting, from a former resident of an abandoned house included in his body of work.

“A lot of locations that I’ve shot don’t even exist anymore,” Matt says, of being able to shoot a location before its weathered frame finally gives way. “It’s interesting that people will contact me afterward and say ‘This is great that you got this photo. [The house] is gone now, and no one else would have taken [the photo]’”.

The Lost and Forgotten Newfoundland project is about being able to document these relinquished places in their current state. These structures are bursting with history as they fall into oblivion, full of stories that have been housed within them for the entirety of their existence. The weathered, abandoned places of Newfoundland are as much a part of our culture as the living vibrancy of the brightly coloured houses of Gower Street.

Thankfully, there are people like Matt who make their relevance persevere.