As a photographer, Bruce Meisterman has worked in areas as diverse as fine art and commercial photography, always looking to meld the two. Originally studying to be a painter, Bruce found that he could express himself and his art more effectively with a camera. Starting out as a photo-journalist with a newspaper, he honed his eye, insight, skills, and story-telling abilities from working with the demands of daily deadlines.
The book Arn? Narn. was initially conceived as an examination of a western culture, isolated from the world. Isolated not so much as to having no contact with the outside world, but as to being a destination rather than a place along one’s way. In researching the then-untitled book, Meisterman determined Newfoundland would be the perfect place in which to do this study.
After his first trip up there to photograph, he realized that a core element to his photos was missing, necessitating another trip to Newfoundland the following year. It was then where the story became apparent to him. The title of the book tells it all.
“Arn? Narn.” is the shortest conversation in Newfoundland English. The story behind it is this: two fishing boat captains are in the bay: one departing, the other returning. The departing captain yells out across the bay “Arn?’ The returning captain responds “Narn.” The translation is simple: “Any fish?”; “No fish.” And this book is about a culture, that culture, having supported itself for many years on fishing, finding itself now unable to do. The fish are gone.
While Arn? Narn. is about Newfoundland, the implications are of a much broader scope. The lessons learned here have global ramifications. Meisterman likens it to a canary in a coal mine, but on a planetary scale. When the canary dies, it’s time to get out of the coal mine and avert a human catastrophe. In this instance, the canary (the Newfoundland fishing industry) died, but no one took notice until it was too late. Evidence indicates other such global collapses are inevitable but may be avoidable, but only if action is taken.
Meisterman has been widely published in numerous publications such as: the New York Times, The Sun magazine, Yankee magazine, Country Journal magazine among many others and has been featured in a number of books. He has had numerous exhibitions ranging from galleries to museums. And his work resides in many private collections. Arn? Narn. is Meisterman’s first book.
He has been a guest lecturer at colleges and universities, religious organizations, and trade groups conducting them in a fashion where he also learns from the process as well as those attending. “We are all teachers to each other. How fortunate that I can be the recipient of a whole room full of teachers’ knowledge. They have made me a much better photographer. The one thing I never want to do is stop learning.”
What inspired you to write your first book?
I think most creative people want to leave something behind as a sort of legacy. I know most photographers want to do a book of their work and I was no exception. For me, it was finding a subject I could really get into and explore. Once I had determined what that was, I couldn't spend enough time with it. I loved it.
What books have influenced your life the most?
There are two books specifically that affected me profoundly. The first is Let Truth be the Prejudice by W. Eugene Smith. It is a wonderful collection of his work. Smith possessed an incredible humanity that was evident in his work. He was force to be reckoned with. He single-handedly got the US Copyright Office to change its rules on photographs!
The second book is Workers by Sebastiao Salgado. When that book came out, I had given up photographing fifteen years earlier. That book just blew me away and reminded me why I had been a photographer in the first place. I had the opportunity to meet Salgado at a book signing for this book and told him of the effect it had on me and that I had returned to photographing. In the middle of the signing, he leaps up and hi-fives me! I've been shooting ever since that book.
What are your current projects?
I've just started work on my next book. It too will be a photo-documentary book but with a bit more prose and will portray a significant cultural difference between the US and the rest of the world. I've also got a new exhibition almost ready to show. It looks nothing like Arn? Narn. though. It's a fun exercise.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Of course. It, like anything else, is not perfect. And of course there are things I would have done differently, but not so much that many would notice. So it works. A friend upon seeing me after the book came out declared, “Well, here's the author! Are you happy with it?” I replied, “No.” Her response was, “Then you really are an author.” That pretty much sums it up.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?
Oh, maybe I take it too personally. I think most authors want to control everything, after all it is their book. But when you collaborate with a publisher, it becomes theirs as well. I thought I played well with others, but maybe not so much.
What has been the best compliment?
The reviews have been wonderful. But and this is sort of personal, the greatest compliment was my wife's tears upon the publisher's acceptance.
Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Stay with it. Do not let anyone dissuade you from your goals. There will be rejection – roll with it. It really isn't personal. Polish, edit, rewrite, and then do it again. Just don't get obsessive about it. At some point, whatever improvement you accomplish will be noticeable only by you...maybe. Then it's time to turn it over to the publisher.
What is your favorite quality about yourself?
Persistent. I am one stubborn guy. Ask my wife! If I wasn't, Arn? Narn. would have never seen the light of day.
What is your least favorite quality about yourself?
That one is a double-edged sword. Impatience. I want it now. I do know better, but still I have to manage it. On the other hand, it helps to drive me towards my goals.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
For any aspiring authors and/or photographers – look around you. What you need is right there in front of you if you're open to it. It's endless. And good luck.