Shetland Fishermen Bring Home A Different Catch

by Alastair Hamilton -

An unusual exhibition currently running at ‘Da Gadderie’, the gallery in the Shetland Museum and Archives, brings together the photographic work of four men who took a camera with them on their fishing trips, with memorable results.

The idea of the show, called ‘At Sea and Ashore’, came to BBC Radio Shetland’s Jane Moncrieff as a result of the men’s photos being posted on social media sites such as Facebook. As she points out in an introduction to the exhibition, the men had an “opportunity to upload their images from life on-board and at home, giving us a window into their lives that was unavailable before. The photographs were of an exceptional standard and also highlighted an artistic side to the fishermen”.

Jane asked three fishermen if they’d be willing to have their work exhibited and she was delighted when they agreed. Then, the widow of a fourth man uploaded some photographs that he’d taken decades before. As it turned out, Jane’s father had been a shareholder and crew member on the same boat, so, she says, “seeing these images for the first time was thrilling and quite emotional”.

So, whose photographs are they?

...a window into their lives that was unavailable before...

Johnny Simpson comes from the island of Whalsay, a community that’s steeped in fishing tradition. He left school in 1974 at 16 and joined the crew on the Whalsay boat, Zephyr, as cook. He’s been with the vessel ever since. He got his first camera, a 35mm Ricoh KR10 back in the late seventies. Nowadays, he uses a Nikon D4, a digital SLR. Johnny says he was slow to embrace the change to digital but soon saw the advantages. His images of orcas taken while fishing and Mirrie Dancers (the Northern Lights or aurora borealis) while ashore are among his most popular.

...He’s been with the vessel ever since...

Kevin Ritch, of Unst and Burra, got the chance of a job on a Yell boat when he was 15. His mum sent him off with a set of oilskins and he enjoyed the work so much it was three months before he went home. He spent ten years with the Madelia. He then sat his ticket and got a job on the Alison Kay for ten years, taking a share when the new boat came along. He has sailed as her second skipper for the last fifteen years. He got his first camera at 16, and moved on to digital in 2001. His quirky, artistic images of birds and seascapes when he's fishing and his eye for an unusual shot ashore are well appreciated on Facebook.

...quirky, artistic images...

Ian Reid, another Whalsay fisherman, left school in 1990, gaining a job on board the Korona, through the government's Youth Training Scheme. He was on her crew for two years, followed by several years with different boats during some difficult years for the industry. Ian says he was lucky, following the decommissioning of the Zenith in 2003, to get a job with the Resilient crew, and is still with them today. He has always been interested in photography and after owning various cameras, bought his first digital SLR in 2005. His favourite subjects when fishing are Solans (gannets) diving and his landscapes are hugely popular. Ian says that, without social media, very few folk would get to see his and other people’s photos of Shetland.

...His favourite subjects when fishing are Solans (gannets)...

The fourth set of photographs was posted by Marlene Williamson, widow of the late Leslie Williamson. He lived in Bixter, in the west mainland of Shetland, and was a shareholder on board the Evening Star. His images take us back as far as the 1960s. Looking back half a century later, much in the industry has changed and advanced, but many will recognise and appreciate the working life of the Shetland fishermen then. Visitors to the exhibition will be very grateful that Leslie took his camera along and that Marlene had the generosity to share them.

The exhibition runs until 26 February.

...many will recognise and appreciate the working life of the Shetland fishermen then...

Posted in: Creative Scene