Maria, help you are a photojournalist and you have been on board Faroese, diagnosis Scottish, Icelandic and Greenlandic trawlers, gill-netters and longliners. How did you get the idea of going out with these fishing boats to photograph fishermen’s work?
I think one major reason has to do with the fact that only very little documentation seems to be available when it comes to life at sea and commercial fishing and its impact on the daily life for so many people. I didn’t now much myself in the beginning but after a while I started to understand more and discovered how unique this topic really is.
What also strikes me is that in big cities, it seems many people don’t know much about how fish are caught and brought to market. However, I soon came to the conclusion that it’s about time to shed some more light on the value of fishing and the work that fishermen do. This work took approximately two years, counting everything — from shooting two days to two weeks on the boats to editing the photos afterwards.
How was the response from skippers and other crew to your photo documentation onboard the boats?
I think, in general, it was very positive response. The fishermen took really good care of me. In fact, I got really spoiled onboard the pelagic fishing vessel Christian í Grótinum with the skipper Kristian Martin Rasmussen and his crew, when I got four meals per day (and coffee breaks as much as I wanted). The atmosphere was in general great in all fishing trips I took, but I guess I was lucky in my choice of boats.
In the book ‘Images of Fishermen: the North Atlantic’ I can see a photo of seabirds that you took when you were onboard the boat from Shetland. In theory, it might as well have been taken here in the Faroes. What was the differences in the photos you took in Faroe, Iceland, Greenland or Shetland?
I think the biggest difference was the work process. These six photo essays cover several fishing methods including benthic and midwater trawling, pair trawling, gill-netting, and longlining; it all depends on the type of fishery, species targeted, and the type of vessel.
For example, the Icelandic boat ‘Thomas Thorvaldsson’ is a longliner and they were catching cod off the east coast of Iceland, using an auto-line system which baits the hooks, shoots the line and hauls it back in. The Greenland shrimp trawler employed a very different technology for catching northern shrimp and they also had a processing factory onboard. Interestingly, a man from a Japanese client company also worked by himself parallel with the main factory, processing the largest shrimp that were frozen raw for the Japanese market.
What was the difference in the way the Faroese fishermen were working compared to those from other countries?
Faroese fishermen are among the pioneers when it comes to pair trawling so, in general, they are working a lot with this technique when they fish on saithe, for example, and also other species. I also think they work more as a team compared with others. Onboard the Greenland shrimp trawler I could see the fishermen were split into groups with Greenlanders working on deck and in the factory as one group, the machine technicians, mainly Faroese, in another group and the Danish skipper and the first mate in a third group.
Have you learned something new about fisheries?
I have learned a lot onboard the fishing vessels, especially when it comes to the fish species and the marine environment and also the improvement of fishermen’s working conditions.
On vessel owner Beta’s so-called Cuba Trawlers ten years ago, the fish would be handled in a manner that involved heavy physical strain, in particular when the catch was good.
But the conditions today are very different. Improvement of at-sea fish handling and working conditions include not least the gutting, cleaning and chilling process; the crew can now handle a catch in hours whereas earlier it would take days. Life has become less inconvenient and at the same time the fishermen get more done.
Are you satisfied with the photos?
I’m quite satisfied with the photos and the result of the book but the photos were not always so easy to do and there were huge challenges along the way.
One challenge was the lighting conditions onboard the fishing boats. On land you have more control with light equipment and if you don’t have enough available light, you can easily make some arrangements with extra lights. But it’s different onboard a fishing boat at sea. You are more dependent on available light and you won’t very often get a catch with a beautiful sunset in the background. Often the fishermen make their catch in the night and you do not see anything at all.
Another challenge was the sea waves and splashes of water coming from the sea and you get water on your camera equipment all of the time. I would get water on the lens during every shoot so I had to have tons of paper to quickly wipe off the lens in between the shoots.