Saint John is a city of two parts, the first being the part presented outwardly through tourism guides, posters, and media campaigns. It features nice shiny photos of Reversing Falls, the boardwalk at Market Square, and the Irving Nature Park. It is a glossy projection used to sell the city’s more marketable qualities. The second part is closer to reality—the industrial town. Photographer Dan Culberson has put together a video of work that showcases the latter, showing the city for what it is: an unconventional beauty.
Saint John may be something of an acquired taste; you’re either born into it, or you learn to love it through the brute force of constant exposure. It’s not as hard as you’d think. The city has more character than a Dickensian novel.
Culberson began working on the project back in 2013, building up to an exhibit at the Saint John Arts Center the following year. The bulk of the photos were taken in preparation for that.
“Most of the photos in the video are from 2013 and 2014 when I was really focused on city shots, but some go back a decade and a half or so and some are as recent as a couple of weeks ago,” says Culberson.
“I just put a bunch of my old photos to music for a show last Friday with Brent and Clyde—sort of an alt-tourism reel of places other people might overlook, but people seem to have liked it. But… I don’t have like a big thesis or anything to go with it. Just a bunch of old pics and clips I wanted to share.”
“I’m interested in how the way a city looks affects how citizens feel and behave. So, it’s sort of me trying to visually explore that idea. I think there is the city that everyone knows—Reversing Falls, the skyline uptown, the brick architecture—those are in there, but hopefully more than that and hopefully in a way that prompts people to see the beauty that is all around us—even in things that might seem dirty, gritty, or kind of run down.”
Locals immediately recognized the brilliance of Culberson’s video, and the honest perspective it brought to the city. Tourism might be fun and all, but to love something means to appreciate the good with the bad.