Capturing the caplin run

Joan Sullivan
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Visual Artist opens beachfront photo installation

Most artists book a venue. Rhonda Pelley waits for the weather to clear and the caplin to come in.

"Middle Cove," her latest exhibition, will debut on site at Middle Cove beach during the annual caplin scull. This deft blend of scene and subject, black and white photographs displayed exactly where they were taken, comes from a multi-media artist whose writer's hand has chronicled the stories of Newfoundland women ("Island Maid"), and whose photographer's eye has been caught by urban street tableaus, bumblebees and punk rock bands.

Rhonda Pelleys work The Veil, is part of her installation Middle Cove, a collection of images inspired by the annual caplin run at the beach. Submitted photo

Most artists book a venue. Rhonda Pelley waits for the weather to clear and the caplin to come in.

"Middle Cove," her latest exhibition, will debut on site at Middle Cove beach during the annual caplin scull. This deft blend of scene and subject, black and white photographs displayed exactly where they were taken, comes from a multi-media artist whose writer's hand has chronicled the stories of Newfoundland women ("Island Maid"), and whose photographer's eye has been caught by urban street tableaus, bumblebees and punk rock bands.

Pelley's interest in capturing the early summer caplin run began simply enough: she was there.

"I love it down there, the community atmosphere. For the past two years when the caplin were rolling in I've taken a bunch of pictures. In the winter I had an idea to exhibit on the beach, but I didn't know how."

She knew she wanted something simple, and that worked on the beach. The format she came up with is 100 per cent recycled and organic.

"It's a clothesline type structure, with the photos suspended on a rope, mounted with rings. We (Pelley and her partner, actor/playwright Frank Barry) chopped down two small trees and peeled them. We went to Evergreen recycling and got a ton of newspapers and spent three days cutting holes in the sheets and gluing them to make a foundation for the sticks."

This all-natural matrix is a statement of artistry, not a polemic.

"I stay away from politics. This is about that environment. I'm interested in doing social essay stuff. The original idea was to have (the photographs) on stands, but this way they will blow in the wind, and that will be organic, too."

The subject warrants it.

As Pelley points out, "Caplin are the food fish. Most of the caplin fishery now is for the Japanese market. Most of the roe for sushi is caplin - masago."

And caplin have been very much affected by shifts in the ocean biomass and temperature.

"After 1995, the caplin started coming in the first couple of weeks of July, which is late. They used to, when they were on time, come on Midsummer's Day, so that's the day they count from now."

Late or not, people watch for the caplin, and news of their shimmering arrival is spread by word of mouth.

"Then people gather. It's always packed. Middle Cove is a lovely time. Families come. People build bonfires and stay all night."

And this year, they'll also enjoy a new exhibit. Because Pelley cannot be sure when this would happen, she needed to keep her work compact and moveable.

"The installation is completely portable."

There are 18 black and white photos laid on nine big sheets with photos on both sides, and they show various sights, including a couple of crowd shots, some children, and men casting nets.

"One of the amazing things is these four men come with casting nets, and they bring the caplin up to the beach and everyone can take what they need, to share. It's communal."

Most of the photos are completely realistic. Only one - of a man in the choreographed arc of throwing his net - has been at all manipulated.

"I put some grain in it. I blew it up, so there was more 'noise', and the grain helped tone that down. I loved his gesture so much. Casting nets is like a dance."

The caplin themselves make intriguing subjects.

"It is fun to photograph fish. Caplin are fantastic. The drier they are, the more you see the scaliness. When they are wet, they look very smooth."

The photographs are articulate and assured, yet this show is the first time Pelley has worked in black and white. For the past few years she has delved into digital photomontage. (A few of these textured, layered pieces will be seen in the upcoming show at the Leyton Gallery of Fine Art).

"Some call it photo composite. I have an idea and I gather the elements."

Though she was first known as a writer, with prominent projects like "Island Maid" (with photographer Sheilagh O'Leary) or other creations with her father (visual artist Ron Pelley), Pelley said her work was steadily getting more visual. "It seems I'm not really interested in straight writing. I'm interested in installation, and a combination of writing and illustration and exhibition."

The exhibit "Middle Cove," a "celebration" of the Middle Cove caplin harvest, is ongoing. The imagery is also available at Pelley's website, http://middlecove.mosaicglobe.com, and plans are underway to show it in Logy Bay, as well as at an outdoor site downtown.

For up-to-date schedules e-mail whipoor_will@yahoo.ca.

Geographic location: Cove, Newfoundland, Evergreen Logy Bay

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  • Carol helfenstein
    July 01, 2013 - 13:55

    I was glad to read this article and would enjoy more about caplin. I could not longer open htto://middle cove.mosaicglobe.com. I really enjoyed island Maid by Rhonda Pelly. Am writing a book re Newfoundland at present following three years of research. Would really appreciated some archival material about the riots of 1932 and 34 re Pierce Power and also Jean Muir of the welfare office of that era. Carol H. 519-395-0065