mike berube – hometown

[slidepress gallery=’mikeberube-hometown’]

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

Mike Berube


play this essay


Hometown is a collection of images that centers around the effects that the current recession has had on the place i call home. Oshawa Ontario in rural Canada in particular, has been hit very hard by these changes, with General Motors factory closures and home evictions and rising drug trafficking.  So far, close to 250,000 people have lost their jobs, and as the downtown sector closes down, stores and shops become a haven for drug dealers and gangs turning a once peaceful downtown into violent ground. But this essay is not as much about the recession as it is about people and the loss and isolation endured through these changes. The emptiness and the separation that has followed and still continues…

“Photography is a personal experience through which i choose to express views on the world. The work I produce reflects my need for uncovering dark places, and further feeds my desire to produce humanistic, palpable photography. I choose to work with photography on the deepest level I can, to produce the best work that I can. I photograph things I feel and see. I try to give voice and meaning to the elements and environment around me.”



Mike Berube was born in Toronto, Canada, were he is currently based. Mike’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries and venues across North America. His work has been published in magazines from Italy, France, Brazil and North America. His recent book entitled “The Dead can Dance” was published early July of 2008, and documents life in the slums of Kibera Kenya, following the election crisis that ripped the slums apart by tribal violence. Mike’s current essay “Hometown” was recently selected as part of the Toronto Contact Photography Festival in May of this year. A solo exhibition was held as part of the festival.


Related links

Mike Berube


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

37 Responses to “mike berube – hometown”

  • and this is real “hometown” story!
    Mike, great stuff!!
    very sensitive, personal story.

  • mike,

    congratulations man! loved it the first time i saw it at bob’s, again at the exhibition, and now here. the notebooks are great.


  • A failed essay. Without the artists statement, I would have no clue what this was about.

  • I guess I was a bit disappointed, I was really excited by the flavour of the pictures, excited to see something about Canada, and the economic crisis effects, especially on the eastern side as I am based out west. But it didn’t really say anything to me. I didn’t see any druglords, or shut down store fronts. I saw some beautiful houses looking empty and lonely, but I didn’t really feel anything. Also the notebooks were beautiful, but maybe it is just the size of them on here, but I don’t get them, I can’t read them. Are they your notes? Found objects? They don’t make sense. I agree with Jim’s failed essay comment. Beautiful pictures but not really a cohesive essay.

  • I like your photographs. I like the loneliness, the abandoned feeling, and so on. But when the pages from the notebook comes repeatedly through this essay I get a feeling there must be some bigger point to it than I can get out of it. I find myself focusing more on the notebook than on the photographs, so it steals the attention.

  • They seem to tell me far more about the author than about any town.
    Haunting lonely lost desolate sensitive fragmented ……but ultimately disconnected.
    those were the impressions this gave me. Maybe its just a mirror as this is how i am a lot of the time.
    jim said ” a failed essay” but i think he’s wrong.

  • Great work Mike. Thanks.

    I looked at the slideshow several times through before reading the written part. I think this is another instance where the Photos speak for themselves and any extra information is too much information. I know, I know. People want to be told things. Even so, I can’t imagine how we could describe this beautiful essay as “failed.” If anyone failed, I fear it is we as audience.

    I find it a great challenge to photograph places like that. Places that appear visually uninteresting to the casual observer. Of course they are not uninteresting. Those places have a story. They have any number of stories. But how to tell them in a way that is visually interesting? It’s not easy, that’s for sure. The notebooks hint at how much thought went in to it. I think Mike Berube’s approach to such a difficult subject was very effective. I really enjoy the slideshow.

  • There is a narrative here that I find I just can’t quite reach. Maybe if the notebooks were more readable? Some of the pictures are good – but I struggle to place them in a meaningful context.

    It’s a shame – I feel I am missing something (ironically…).

  • I agree about the notebooks — seems we should be able to read the text.

    Mike, are you a fan of the Australian photographer Max Pam?

  • “home is the place where distance did not yet still matter”–john berger

    as with James essay, at the outset I should say that Mike is a close personal friend of mine and that I was proud to bring this essay to David’s attention and to the Burn audience. I am also proud of Mike. He is a brilliant, passionate, mature photographer who at only 22 is remarkably poised and thoughtful and dedicated, not only to the art and the profession, but to the people with whom he is involved. I want to CONGRATULATE mike on both having Hometown published at Burn but also on being chosen for the IAN PERRY AWARD EXHIBITION in London. Just last week, Mike was notified that his work from Kenya, the extraordinary series from the Narobi election riots (which David showed at Look3 last year), has been chosen by the Ian Perry Award Foundation and will be exhibited in London next month…as well as published in the Sunday times.

    As for Hometown, I had the great joy of helping Mike edit this essay for both his exhibition (which was gorgeous) for this year’s CONTACT festival and for the Burn essay submission. Yes, I am partial and not entirely objective, but I really love this essay, especially in it’s full and long(er) incarnation. the reason why i love the essay is that it is unique, entirely different from most of the journalistic work done on the economic recession. thinking about Gilden’s powerful work on Detroit, or Gene Richards work (The Blue Room), or others, there is something different here, something more lyrical.

    this essay is a lamentation, a ruminative walk, Mike’s walk, around his hometown of Oshawa, a town that is essentially built upon and dependent upon the jobs and money from the automotive industry. Over the last few years, the town has literally transformed into a down more haunted than thriving. And that is really what is at play here: a haunting. Like Sebald’s book “Rings of Saturn”, Hometown is really a somnambulent walk, a memory of so much that is deeply personal to him that has been transformed and left behind. It certainly is not a study of the specifics of the job losses, nor an examination of specific families (although, he is doing that now in another body of work), nor a typical documentary essay on economic hardship. It is more lyrical, more evasive, more transient. the images themselves are broken, detail decay and loss and sadness, that is probably less to too with the economic reality than it has to do with Mike’s own sense of loss, history, disappearnce of things. It is a very personal and almost hermetic work, and for me, that is why it works. I take that journey with him…i wonder about these people in the pictures, the fractured homes, the landscape cut up and plowed by time’s black tongue, i wonder about the building left to the see like Cerce’s home, i wonder is this about economy or about a person who is grieving. the journals help too and add, for me, something tangible to wrestle with, as if they themselves question the very nature of documentary work: they are mike’s journals and i’ve had the pleasure of reading them, seeing the drawings, all that….they are, as if a map, some burried treasure that remains gone…

    again, i am prejudiced. I seen the prints, i’ve seen the exhibition, i’ve worked on the edit. And it is reasonable that some wish to better ‘understand’ what’s going on here, what the journals look like, why, wht are they. but in the end, what matters to me is his authorship, that he has chosen to make a very personal statement, albeit incomplete by its nature, a song of a place that has profound meaning. rather than run around and photograph other communities, mike chose, after having been in Kenya, to try something different….to document his own reaction and the loss that has happened to the see, which in the end, is also his loss….a falling away of all those things that once were sturdy in his life and in his towns…

    a ruminative and sad essay and one, for me, that lyrically breaks my heart…..

    marina and i are so proud of you mike….very very proud……and very happy for you…

    ok amigo: that’s it, i promised you and james would be the last things i ever write here….im happy to end it with your work :)))

    calling u


  • MIKE…
    big time !!!
    make sense…
    loves it…

  • That was quite an interesting approach to the subject. I like the photographs, they look very good, but it’s hard to say that they are about an economical crisis.

    Well done anyway! I’ve also seen your website and you’ve got very strong work in there as well! congrats!!


  • I really appreciate these photos… good composition, quality black and white, you’ve got talent… but we need so many explanations to get the point across to understand where this essay is going… it could be a bit more descriptive visually… but good work for sure!

  • If your intention here was to manufacture a news story then I’d say you did an admirable job. You had a preconceived notion about Oshawa and deliberately went out to support your idea with images that are misrepresented. The crumbled building at the beach in Whitby has been in that state for the 20 years that I’ve lived here, I’m not sure what it originally housed but it sits waiting for permits to turn it into a pub or restaurant. The snow covered field is land that is zoned for new housing development. The large parcel of land with apartment building in background is farmers field which I believe still grows crops (just blocks from my home in downtown Whitby). The boarded up homes appear to be the Whitby psychiatric hospital that was closed many years ago and the land sold for development. As for the 250,000 jobs lost, the population of Oshawa is about 150,000, do the math. GM Oshawa in the eighties employed around 20,000 people, over the years that was reduced to about 12,000 and in this last wave of attrition about 3,500 remain. Most of the positions were packaged out including those with less than 10 years seniority. Of course the recession has had some effect on our economy but not to the point of creating a ghost town. Very few if any businesses have failed because of the economic climate. As far as the drug trafficking problem, it does exist in a small sector of town but this has been an issue for many years and seemingly unrelated to this situation.
    This is pure fiction, if you intend to tell a story of hardship then seek out the individuals that are suffering or at least do your research before misrepresenting your photos.
    I’m irritated with the lies and lack of research in this project.

  • impressive, mike. the last picture might work well with the split pairing you did with the others.

    again, quality.

  • Nice series of images. Mike, but in light of the comments posted by Sacco I’m not sure
    how to feel about the ‘story’ component.

    I’m more drawn to the darker panoramic images that the pairs but my favorite image of the
    set is # 24- gives me an instant ‘hit’ of Andrew Wyeth.

  • The opening paragraph of the artist statement reads a bit sensationalist. I;m sure there have been some effects from the recession and the econmoic downturn, but the references to violence and gangs is a bit easy, and there are no visual referencess to such activity. Words sometimes get in the way of what the work is really about, or what could be possible from viewing it. I think some of the work is nice, but the words and pics don’t match for me. Photographers don’t always need a story. Sometimes the pictures are enough without words or a story.

  • sorry to be a pedant and talk about technical stuff again , but with regards plate number 2 (the first photograph in the series): if you’re going to burn a sky in, i’d reccomend doing the whole sky, not just the bit above the roofline of the building.

    apart from that, i just found this essay frustrating – in some instances it feels like some great photographs ruined by a strange collage device. why do that to strong photographs? maybe i am just too much of a traditionalist.

    the commentary from sacco bothers me as well.

  • I’m not a big fan of pasting photos together. I saw Philip Blenkinsop’s project “Tales from the Yellow River” last year at Visa and this technique was difficult on the eye. Why not just use a panorama??

    I like some of these dark, sordid images that set a mood, but if the goal is to tell a story then I would have liked to see the photographer get close to people who are feeling the economic crunch, ie. blank stares etc.

    I really like the Africa work on his site. I guess what I’m saying is to incorporate some of the style from Africa into this project.

  • I do not consider unjustified praise or the opposite as good critique – I find it rather useless.

    First of all, I had a feeling, that the images in colours where disturbing. Not that they where bad, they just visually do not fit into the overall feeling of the essay. They are too saturated and contrasty. For that reason I went to the website and as expected, this was a combination of three different essays – ´Foreclosure´, ´Downturn´ and ´Hometown´ – and then the notebooks.

    Where ‘Hometown’ and ‘foreclosure’ works together, I feel ‘Downturn’ works against. This is a question of editing. ‘Downturn’ could in my eyes work fine for itself.

    Second. As Milan Kundera writes in his book “The unbearable lightness of being” repetition is what gives weight to life and events – the main character in the book. Thomas, has favorite quote, which is as well one of my favorite quotes: “Einmal ist keinmal”. I feel that this is as well true for photographic essays – pictures need to be repeated. But it is a language and to build a strong sentence, a strong argument, a strong essay, there need to be several blocks of meaning, images or words, reinforcing each other.
    You state that this is ongoing work. I would like to see a more “blocks of meaning”. Hereby not saying, that what I see is bad, because I don´t think so, but I do not feel it is finished.

    Third. I like the pairing of the images as a visual trick, but right now it feels mostly as a visual trick. Nothing wrong with that. But it seems to me, that there is a possibility of making it into a point, that says something about your subject. I think you could work with that.

    As for the notebooks. I cannot read your handwriting, but I cannot even read my own. Well, to make an opinion on these images I need to know the content of the notebooks. I should try to decipher the writing ones again

    Well, finally. It is promising, indeed. Strong ambience.



  • oh and breaking the one post rule to be even more pedantic – bob: it’s Ian Parry, not Perry.

  • Great stuff Mike. Some really nice ideas (in terms of composition and presentation of the work) backed up with some great photographs (#3 wow).

    i see that some people have raised issue with the narrative, stating that perhaps it is not obvious what the essay is about. maybe. but is that to it’s detriment? i can’t speak for others, but i have no desire to be told what to think about what i’m seeing. this essay made me put myself into these places, to tie my own experiences to it.

    you even state in your blurb “Photography is a personal experience through which i choose to express views on the world.” i believe that this is how you see your hometown, and your feelings are very apparent in the images. i wouldn’t say you had failed.

    congrats on the publication and the exhibitions too. keep up the good work

  • Ben! :))…THANK YOU…you are absolutely correct…was typing quickly last night…i imagine Arantxa is going to let me know as well ;))…thanks for the correction. :))……

  • thank you for your comments. to begin, i would like to address the issue of the journals. the journals are not meant to be read nor taken for literal meaning. they are quite simply a process. they show a starting and a ending point in witch i started to photograph this story. as bob said they are to be seen as a map and nothing more.

    as for the issue with reportage, many factory jobs have been lost but not just in oshawa. oshawa employs many in the auto sector but there are also hundreds of third party job losses related to this as well. this effects manufacturing, shipping and sales of parts and cars. so in short this has not just spread throughout oshawa but it has spread through surrounding areas as well in great numbers.

  • Perhaps part of the problem is this format of a website viewing of exhibition work. It didn’t work for me with the last essay and I think I would like this more in a gallery too. As it is, that is. I do really like the images of the houses and the use of the double image. I think I would enjoy the notebooks in a gallery and their placement amongst the images but here, I can’t see much. I find the coloured pictures at odds with the rest. A little forced perhaps. Or maybe its just that my screen is too small.

    For me, the heart of this work are the pictures of the houses and land. And with the words of BobBlack…,

    “this essay is a lamentation, a ruminative walk, Mike’s walk, around his hometown of Oshawa, a town that is essentially built upon and dependent upon the jobs and money from the automotive industry. Over the last few years, the town has literally transformed into a down more haunted than thriving. And that is really what is at play here: a haunting. Like Sebald’s book “Rings of Saturn”, Hometown is really a somnambulent walk, a memory of so much that is deeply personal to him that has been transformed and left behind.”

    …there is a good statement. I feel it is more meaningful (I’d like to say accurate) than the words of the photographer himself. I found the photographer’s words incongruent with the work as though one was being forced to fit the other. The statement does not fit the work and the work does not match the statement. Perhaps the explanation for that is in what sacco has to say.

  • Mike published while i was composing my comment. Oops.

  • Maybe, just maybe ………….. “the incongruence”between text and visuals…… is what gives some work an extra road to travel. A new freedom, a place less hidden, a secret yet discovered………

  • Love the essay, Mike. The personal aspect makes it very meaningful to me, there is no indifference, there is sadness and empathy, important qualities for photographer. the adding of the diary’s pages and the repetition just build up on it intensifying the emotion. I remember there were more images of people first time I’ve seen it, lost, desoriented. I’d keep them in to contrast the dilapidation and abandonment of the cityscape. Good work, Mike, very proud of you.

  • Hi Mike,

    Very proud to see some great Canadian content here on Burn. I also live in Toronto. Would love to catch up with you sometime (frank@frankmichael.net). I really enjoyed the images and the technique employed. I think as image makers we struggle to fit the prose with with our visual intent and we can easily run into problems as has been echoed in many of the comments. As with other work posted on Burn I think this lends itself more to a gallery exhibition where one to can take the time and inspect up-close to feel the full impact of the notebooks and the images. I think some of the struggle here on Burn is a debate between vernacular photography vs fine art photography. The boundaries are often blurred and make interpretation and critique challenging. As Burn is ‘evolving’ I guess this will play out over time and the critique which ever way it leans adds to this evolution. I enjoy strong images that say something to me. That is my main criteria in critique, but others may have a different lens through which they view the essays here. I struggle sometimes too with how to interpret some of the essays. I have some difficulty with overly contrived work especially if it leaves me feeling confused and empty without a clear focus, but this is not the case in your series here. I think if I were to look at the essay without having read the intro I would have enjoyed it much more.

    All the best,


  • Mike, I love your work. It speaks to me of the creative process, of feelings and mood, of putting together the pieces of a puzzle, of trying to make sense of things. When I look at the work on your website I see tight edits that tell a story–or stories–of people, places, ways of being in the world. You engage me as a photographer, an artist and a person. Your work does not need an introductory statement: it stands on its own.

    How I wish I could have seen your exhibit at the Toronto Contact Festival because I feel the use of journal sketches and writings interspersed with the photos would have made for a powerful presentation. I’m afraid that online publishing like we see here on Burn does not serve such a presentation well at all. The photos of the journal pages intrigue and frustrate me. I love that you use this process to create an essay but I am curious enough that I want to see and read the journal pages for myself.

    I find your way of piecing images together to be fascinating. It speaks of the disjointedness of what we see and how we try to make sense of things that often make no sense at all. To me it is much more interesting than panoramic shots. But that’s just my taste.

    Congratulations on the recognition that is coming your way. You deserve it. I look forward to following your work in the future.


  • Hi Mike,

    I like the photography but not the statement. I really don’t see much about what you write, the poverty and gangs. I see a quiet, reflective essay with some beautiful photography.

  • Mike,

    I’ve taken a few days to vist and revist my thoughts on the essay. Overall, I like the images and the photography employed. Ironically, what I have resorted to come back and post this morning is similar to the previous comment from Rafal (honestly – It is my thoughts rather than copying Rafal). For me the images work but the text doesn’t. Or at least I don’t think the set completely achieves your mission as outlined in the text. For me I come to burn magazine for the photography rather than the prose So if that’s the only critical comment that I can muster then you must be doing a good job from my perspective. Personally a little more contrast in some of the images but thats being nit picky and more personal preference. I have a personal project running about my hometown which will run for quite some time to come and you certainly have given an approach for me to contemplate.


  • Mike – I haven’t seen your essay – only some parts of it before your exhibit.
    Your ability to relay the mood of the town is pretty impressive. Congratulations.

  • Imagery is beautiful..
    the text shots
    pulled me out of your story….
    For me,
    your images are your diary entries,
    would encourage doing voice over
    of text,
    to include it….
    beautiful imagery….

  • Not only is this work captivating and beautiful, but it is so emotionally charged, which to me is the greatest challenge in photography. So congratulations on that Mike, and well as your other successes.

    For me the notebook shots worked. Not because they added to the story, as your statement described it, but because they show your personal relationship to the work. These photos are clearly part of you and your reflections on your hometown and the notes reaffirm that for me. I wonder how different this story would have been if you had done it before the economic crisis. These images seem to be reflections of a deeply seeded relationship to a place more than a story. It almost feels as if the economic crisis is simply a convenient template that fit into your preconceived relationship to your hometown.

    I really enjoyed it…

  • Congrats! It’s really refreshing for me to see another way of working, and specifically for me with my own ‘town’ story in the works, the way you approached the place and idea of hometown. Am curious as to if it was the place that informed you about this approach, or your feelings about the place, or..

Comments are currently closed.