Environs & Denizens – A Collection of Photographs from Downtown St. John’s

A five year look into the lives, culture and lives of downtown St. John's

Filed in Articles Photo Essays on June 27th 2011

ColinandBillyjordan-2

Me and Billy Jordan having a chat on Water Street (2011)

Downtown St. John’s is a place that’s near and dear to my heart. The people. The color. The sights. The history. There really is nothing like it. As a professional photographer a favorite aspect of my life is street photography. Over the years, I’ve compiled thousands of photos from downtown St. John’s but my interest mostly centers around the oldest street in North America: Water Street.

Developed in the early 16th century, there’s a tremendous amount of history on this street. Throughout my on-again, off-again documentation I’ve always kept it in mind how people will look back on these photos in the future, so in an effort to capture the true nature of Water Street’s denizens there are times they’re completely unaware that they’re being photographed. Below are over 200 photos of people living their lives and going about their daily business. You’ll see the regular characters of downtown, the warm summer days to the rainy evenings of Water Street and the travelers who frequent our city sidewalks and the abstract slices of architecture.

Busk

verb
play music or otherwise perform for voluntary donations in the street or in subways

On certain days walking around downtown St. John’s is like having your iPod on shuffle. It’s rather funny at times, accordion music  on one corner, banjo’s on another and a fiddler round the corner. There are a number of musicians who busk on a regular basis downtown — some I’m certain it’s their full time job — while others come and go, never to be seen again. Combine that music with others plying their artistic trade and a walk along Water Street is some of the best entertainment in town.

Denizen

noun
an inhabitant or occupant of a particular place

Besides the very obvious buskers and music makers who make their presence well known there are other people too. The people who go about their daily lives completely unaware of their contribution to an overall idea. These are the faces and visuals which collectively and accidentally conspire to create the idea that is, “St. John’s”.

Nocturnal

adjective
done, occurring, or active at night

St. John’s at night is a pretty sleepy town. That’s not to say we shut the shops at 5pm but by the time 11pm rolls around on a Friday, everywhere but downtown is gone to bed. Fortunately, Water Street and the surrounding area tends to stay awake well into the night. From ships preparing to set out to sea with parts for Hibernia to the buskers who seem to never take a break, a walk downtown after the banks close will always prove to be an interesting one.

Shore Leave

noun
leisure time spent ashore by a sailor

From Portuguese fishing vessels, the Spanish Armada Navy, our very own Canadian Navy and the countless other visitors who call our port a home — even if it is just for a night on George — the city of St. John’s is home to many and memories for more.

Everyday

adjective
happening or used every day; daily

Not all of the people pictured below are homeless or in need, but they both make up the character of downtown St. John’s. What would Water Street be without the polite Billy Jordan pausing you on the sidewalk to ask for any spare change or the wonderful man who collects many a can, Robert Rideout?

I just want to mention that those people who I do snap a photo of that just happen to be down on their luck always receive something from me and you should consider the same when you pass someone asking for help on our streets. Don’t like giving out change? Why not ask if they need a coffee to keep warm or a bottle of water to stay cool. There are many ways to help.

Vegabond

noun
a person who wanders from place to place without a home or job

Often looked down upon as “beggars” or “moochers” the people who visit our city from places far away are people too. They’re someones kid trying to find their way in the world or a hopeful teen just wanting to have a meal that night. Again I’ll mention that those people who I do snap a photo of that just happen to be down on their luck always receive a donation from me and you should consider the same when you pass someone asking for help on our streets.

Environs

plural noun
the surrounding area or district.

The color. The style. That’s downtown St. John’s. If you’ve ever caught an episode of Jim Furlong’s “A Little Good News” you’ll no doubt notice that a lot has changed on Water Street since even as recent as the 80’s, yet so much has stayed the same. What will change between now and 2040?

Closing comments

The whole point of street photography is to document life, as such a lot of the photographs you see above are 100% candid. Usually though, I’ll stop to talk with the people interested in what I’m doing and often I will ask for permission first before photographing them if I feel the situation calls for it. I enjoy getting close to my subjects, shaking their hands and being completely open about what I’m doing. If someone asks me to delete a photo (and it isn’t film) I do if I feel there is no need to hang on to it. If you’re going to attempt photography such as what you see above, please do so respectfully and openly. Being polite with a genuine smile will go a long way. :-)

Thank you,

Colin Peddle

18 responses to “Environs & Denizens – A Collection of Photographs from Downtown St. John’s”

  1. //d. says:

    So many familiar faces. This is an amazing post man. Really well done. I hope to see a book published of this at some point.

  2. Gord J says:

    Great Job on this well thought out and captured! The print on the guys shirt is A Painting that was done with 6912pills painted different shades to lay it out (Painting name Tylenol halftone) of Gentlemen Junkie a drug addict . By Bill Rose  displayed at The Christina Parker Gallery  hope this answered your question. I know cause I had to do a write up and report on the gallery at the time it was on display few years back.

  3. Ashley says:

    so this is where you’ve been :D!!! looks amazing!

  4. Josh Best says:

    This is amazing! Fantastic idea. I wish you would have posted it in 40 different blogs. The print looks like the guy in the above picture in the booth on the right, lol

  5. Jim says:

    Great post! Love downtown St. John’s. Nice to put some names with the many faces I see every week. Well done!

  6. Sarah Hansen says:

    The image on that guy’s shirt is of William S. Burroughs. Artist Bill Rose did a piece a few years ago that was the same portrait of Burroughs, but made entirely out of Tylenol tablets. Burroughs was an American writer and drug addict. Not sure if this t-shirt is Rose’s piece, or just a portrait of Burroughs. 

  7. Chris says:

    wow Colin every time I look at your site it makes me want to get into photography more & Sarah wants to too(by the way its Chris Pats son.) and thanks again for great photos you took last summer for us.

  8. Colleen says:

    I can just sit and look at your pictures over and over. You have an amazing way of looking at things that most of us miss. Please keep sharing!

  9. Sadie says:

    Awesome Colin…

    “the lady on the door” is Denise…she is gone now.

    The guy with the print on his shirt is in fact Bill Rose…monster guitarist and artist and helluva nice guy….

    J. Clarke

  10. Eugene Leger says:

    Wow, nice stuff.  I’ve always been a bit weary shooting strangers unknowingly.  Yeah, a few familiar faces, Denise :( and Bill with the Burroughs portrait.  I’m wondering if you experienced more than a little negativity besides the guy sitting in the door?  Did you talk to the kids’ parents first for the Regatta pics?  Wonderful shots!

    • Colin Peddle says:

      Very little negativity. I can’t even recall “the guy sitting in the door” Eugene. Most of the time when I take someones picture I’m talking to them. Sometimes it’s before the photo, sometimes it’s after. Depends on what the photo is. A photo of a subject without their knowledge differs greatly from one where they’re fully aware and every situation/subject requires something different.

      Bottom line is this: If you’re respectful of your subject, 99% of the time people won’t get mad. If you’re mean, aggressive and getting in peoples faces but not speaking to them when asked “what are you doing” and generally acting creepy, then yes, people will get mad. But that’s now how I do things. If I shoot a picture of someone without their knowledge, usually by the time I’m done they know. I’ll smile to them and say “hey!” and they might say hi back, not caring about the photo or they might ask “what are you doing”. But I’m open to them, I give them the opportunity to speak to me by being friendly and approachable.

  11. Csm708 says:

    Love this

  12. Stephen Strowbridge says:

    The name of the guy on the sidewalk reading in the ”
    Contrasting approaches to life right there.” photo is Darryl.

  13. Shawn Michael Fitzpatrick says:

    I looked carefully at every picture here, and I say, well done, Colin!!!  I think of you, as being a good person, I totally understand your respect for your subjects.  People are amazing subjects, and you have captured split seconds of these persons moments, very nicely!!

  14. Alan J. says:

    Wickedly awesome shots, man! Quirky place with lotsa quirky folks.

  15. Great photos, Colin!  Downtown St. John’s is a wonderfully colourful place, in more ways than one.  Beautiful job at capturing the eclectic personalities who hang out there.  Thank you for preserving them.

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