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Pasadena native Matthew Hollett’s new book delves into the story behind curious photo of Northern Peninsula rock

Matthew Hollett, originally from Pasadena but now living in St. John’s, has released a new book called “Album Rock” about the story behind a peculiar photograph taken on the Northern Peninsula more than 150 years ago.
Matthew Hollett, originally from Pasadena but now living in St. John’s, has released a new book called “Album Rock” about the story behind a peculiar photograph taken on the Northern Peninsula more than 150 years ago. - Contributed

It’s funny how the most impulsive of actions can sometimes have an impact that reverberates through history. 

Matthew Hollett’s book, “Album Rock,” is a collection of his thoughts stemming from examining this odd photo taken in Sacred Bay on the Northern Peninsula in the 1850s.
Matthew Hollett’s book, “Album Rock,” is a collection of his thoughts stemming from examining this odd photo taken in Sacred Bay on the Northern Peninsula in the 1850s.

That was what struck Matthew Hollett when he learned of the story behind Album Rock, the title of a new book the Pasadena native recently released.

Hollett was doing some research on the Corner Brook Museum and Archives website around five years ago when he stumbled across the interesting photograph of what would become known locally as Album Rock.

The photo was taken some time in the 1850s by Paul-Émile Miot, a French naval officer and photographer, in Sacred Bay near the community of Ship Cove on the Northern Peninsula.

The image shows a French soldier standing atop the tree-covered sea stack, while another person stands on a ladder putting the finishing touches on painting the word “ALBUM” in white on the rock face. A third, barely discernable person can be seen standing beneath the L painted on the rock.

As it turned out, Miot was staging a photograph for possible use as a cover for an album of Newfoundland photos he had taken, though it’s not known if that album ever came into being.

Being a visual artist who has lately turned more to writing, Hollett was fascinated by the photo.

“I was intrigued by the fact he accidentally named this rock,” said Hollett. “This was, as far as I can tell, this whimsical thing they did, but, by naming it, he has turned it into a place. Otherwise, it would just be a big rock in the bay.”

Hollett started out by writing a blog post about the unusual picture, in which he says it was as if Miot somehow managed to photograph a daydream.

After a while, he kept returning to the idea of it and wrote more poems and essays.

The end result was “Album Rock,” a book that a mixes Hollett’s poetic and prose writings stemming from examining the photo and from the road trip to visit the Northern Peninsula site in person.

The book also touches on related themes, including some other interesting people — mostly other French naval folks — who happened to be around the island around the time Miot was.

For Hollett, the book is about using visuals to entertain and maybe spark conversation about the early days of photography and the stories behind their place in recording history.

“Every page has a picture and there are lots of old photos in it,” he noted. “It’s not an academic book. It’s written for a general audience and it’s a lot of fun to read.”

The book was launched last weekend by Boulder Publications in St. John’s, where Hollett currently resides. It is available online or anywhere Boulder distributes, including Island Treasures, Coles and the Newfoundland Emporium in Corner Brook.

There are no details yet, but Hollett said he may plan a book launch in western Newfoundland in the new year.

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