If you’ve been following my reviews on this page thus far, you’re probably thrown for a bit of a loop with this entry. Up until now, I’ve generally been reviewing retro video games from the 90’s, and that seemed like the sole direction in which I was steering the reviewing side of this page. On the contrary, I’ve been interested in reviewing other media from the start. Video games just happen to be one of my favourite mediums. There’s nothing more to it than that. If I come across a TV show, a movie, or even an album I feel like reviewing, I’m open to those too. In fact, if you have something you’d like me to review then by all means let me know at thegoldandsteelsaga”at”gmail.com.
As an author, books are definitely on my list of media to review; in fact, they’re the highest on the list. So why haven’t I? Well, I have only done a handful of reviews thus far, and it just so happened that they were all video games.
So, if we’re going to go boldly into new reviewing territory, I can’t think of a better way to do so than by talking about the missing piece that every coffee table needs: Chasing Newfoundland by Ray Mackey.
You might be asking, “You’re starting off with a photography book?” and to that I say, “Absolutely!”
If you know me from The Gold & Steel Saga and the website, you know I’m a writer above all. Perhaps you even know that I’m also a former pro wrestling referee. Besides both of those, did you also know that I’m an amateur scenic photographer?
My favourite form of exercise is hiking, and when I go, I always bring a camera. When I started snapping shots in my high school years, it was a cheap-o digital camera that I spent about $80 at Wal-Mart that did the trick. Years later, with the advent of smart phones, the dedicated camera was retired for the utilitarian devices we all now know and own. Once my wife moved to Newfoundland, she took up hiking with me and the scenic photography bug bit her too. She’s developed an amazing eye for pointing out the great shots and it’s provided us with a wonderful activity to spend time together. Suffice it to say, we’ve created memories that I’ll hold with me so long as my mind allows.
Again though, I’m only an amateur snapping shots with my smartphone. I like to think I have a keen eye for a good shot, and my wife seems to think I do as well, but I’m no expert.
Ray Mackey on the other hand, is a photography genius and expert. If you’re from Newfoundland and Labrador or you enjoy spending time in the province and its online social scenes, that sentence is likely not telling you anything you didn’t already know. For those who might not be familiar with Canada’s most easterly province, you will be intimately acquainted with the rugged majesty that our province offers by the end of Ray’s book.
Full disclosure here: Ray and I are from within the same span of communities south of St. John’s. In fact, I grew up one town over from Ray, albeit a generation apart. Ray had moved closer to St. John’s when I was still a child, but I’ve been friends, acquaintances, classmates, and co-workers with members of Ray’s extended family over the years. Apart from that, and seeing Ray around the area a few times, I only know him the same way the rest of Newfoundland does, which is as a photographer extraordinaire.
As his introduction in the opening pages of the book will tell you, Ray has been capturing Newfoundland one picture at a time for a few decades. What he humbly omits is that he’s become so ridiculously talented that he’s taken on a level of fame comparable to Newfoundland talents like Alan Doyle and Gordon Pinsent. His work, even without his trademark watermark, is instantly recognizable and often regarded locally with the same parlance that one might use to describe the artwork of Jackson Pollack or Picasso. By that, I mean one doesn’t simply say, “this is a picture by Ray Mackey.”
Rather, they say, “That’s A Ray Mackey.”
The internet and social media in particular have a way of bringing out the worst in humanity, and I can’t help but think of the ills of it all with regularity. Most days, I feel that the negatives of social media outweigh the positives to the point that I contemplate deleting it all and walking away. (I probably should as I would get far more writing done) I maintain though, that one of the few bright spots to come from social media is how it has propelled artists who might have otherwise gone unnoticed and unappreciated to a level of recognition they might not have otherwise achieved. Ray is just one of those artists. Without fail, every time the man posts a new picture to his Facebook group or elsewhere, it can be guaranteed to generate shares in the tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands at a minimum. I might even be underselling him here and I would be willing to bet that certain pieces by him have hit the million-share milestone by now.
From the photos you see above and below, it’s not hard to see why. Ray’s work is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Now, you can say that the camera does all the work, as many critics of photography as an art form are quick to do. Certainly, that is a part of it, and Ray is doubtlessly working with the top-of-the-line equipment; but again, it’s merely a single part of what make’s Ray’s work such a joy to behold. Anyone with enough money to spare can run out, throw that money at the nearest Canon or Nikon dealer, and walk away with a setup similar to what Ray has. That alone isn’t praise worthy in and of itself. No, the artistry of photography is in knowing how to get the best from your equipment, the object of attention, and the surrounding environment. Ray has a mastery of all three elements, and he uses them to create perfection.
Having followed Ray on social media for years now, I’ve seen him demonstrate at every turn that he’s more than just a guy with an amazing camera; because I’m 100% certain that Ray could make magic with a Polaroid Model 95. To do what Ray does takes an instinct that not every photographer possesses. It takes a fine eye to see the angles and objects that most would otherwise miss, to find that one-in-a-million perspective that reveals the story that the scenery is begging to tell. From our capital city, to the west coast, up to the northerly reaches of the island, Ray has scoured this rugged, majestic rock we call home to find the visual tales (and a few whale tails) so that they might be shared with the world.
With all of that said, it comes as no surprise that Ray was nudged toward making a book to highlight his artwork. I would be beyond shocked if MacIntyre Purcell Publishing were the first to approach him to publish, even. In fact, my first thought when I heard about the book was, “What took so long?”
You know what? Maybe it was for the best that it took this long.
I have no doubt that other publishers could have done an admirable job, and Ray’s artistry would sell copies of it with ease. In the case of Chasing Newfoundland, though, the finished product that Ray put together with designer Denis Cunningham is a thing of pure beauty that could be the focal piece of any coffee table or library collection. I’ve only had the book a few days as of this writing, and I find myself picking it up for a browse whenever I pass it in my house. I flip to a random page and look at a picture I’ve already seen and find something new. It’s the book that keeps on giving. The cover choice, the print quality, the overall layout aesthetic, and Ray’s own captions, all make for a fantastic perusal every time.
Speaking of time, it’s said that timing is everything and Chasing Newfoundland has hit store shelves and online listings with the Holiday Season nearly upon us. If you’re not already thinking about getting a copy for yourself, it would make the perfect gift for Newfoundlanders living home or abroad, for the Newfoundland Fan waiting to get here, or the landscape photography buff in your life. The listed price is $34.95 (which I assume is in Canadian dollars) and I assure you that it’s worth every penny. Chasing Newfoundland is one book you’ll want to look through whenever you see it.
As always, stay safe out there.