Endangered Species: The Commercial Fishermen of Point Judith
Point Judith, Rhode Island, is one of New England’s few remaining deep-sea fishing ports. Frequent visits to this village, located 30 miles south of Providence, have shown me just how unique this community is in its ability to retain a sense of the past as it moves into the future. It is, however, a fragile balance. The fleet, which has long been an important source of tuna, bass, cod, flounder, lobster, scallops, and more, is rapidly shrinking; this way of life is fading. The threats hastening its demise come from many quarters: dwindling resources, increasing regulations, soaring costs, and pressure to convert the waterfront into a tourist area.
Having spent years in a museum environment documenting the area’s rich whaling and fishing history, I soon realized how important it was to record this industry before it, too, disappears. Over the past year I have had the privilege of accompanying many of the vessels on their journeys in order to photograph the fishermen at their work. One of the most surprising discoveries I made was how directly these black-and-white images create a continuum with the past. These fishermen proudly display black-and-white photographs of their family’s fishing heritage. Today’s images help them see that they are part of something larger than themselves—part of the great legacy reflected in those early images.
The final series of images consists of some 400 final prints, selected from thousands of shots taken both at sea and on shore. While the photographs document modern fishing practices, the final selection was based more on the individual image’s ability capture the essence and the beauty inherent in this type of life and work. I hope that these images will, in some way, remain timeless. Although vessels and equipment have changed over the years, fishermen face the same challenges their predecessors encountered, searching for their prey in the same imperious and inspiring environment. Perhaps these photographs will help today’s fishermen carry their past into their future.