North Sea thinkers
Edinburgh born Craig Easton’s photography is deeply rooted in the documentary tradition with much of his work exploring notions of identity and connection to place. Combining expansive large-format landscape with intimate portraiture and recorded or written testimony, his research-based practice weaves a narrative between contemporary experience and history.
‘Fisherwomen’ examines the historical and contemporary importance of women to the fishing industry by connecting today’s workers to the long tradition of the ‘herring lassies’ going ‘to the gutting’ and explores the journeys they used to make down the whole of the North Sea coast of the UK.
The work also connects to the very origins of photography. It is widely acknowledged that the first social documentary photographs ever made were those by David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson when they took their bulky camera into the streets of Newhaven to make calotype portraits of working fisherwomen in 1843. They were followed by other artists in the late 1800s and early 1900s including Winslow Homer, Isa and Robert Jobling, John McGhie, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe etc. all of whom were drawn to the sight of fisherwomen working on the quaysides of the east coast. Each of them placed the fisherwomen at the centre of their work, but after about 1920 the attention appears to have shifted and the representation of women in fishing is more of an editorial nature seen in wide expansive views rather than earlier specific focus on the individual or group.
Easton’s ‘Fisherwomen’ shines the spotlight back on the women themselves, still performing much the same role as they did in the early 1800s, but now almost entirely unseen, working behind closed doors in fish processing factories, smokehouses and small family firms right up and down the east coast.
In the heyday of the herring fleet, the fishermen would follow the shoals on their annual migration south from Shetland to East Anglia and the fisherwomen would mirror their journey on land, gutting and packing the fish into barrels on the bustling quaysides of each fishing port the fleet visited. The connection between the towns and villages was tangible: Shetlanders knew Yarmouth, Hull folk knew Fraserburgh and Wick. Easton’s large format b&w landscapes of the route presented alongside portraits of former and contemporary fisherwomen, remakes the connection between these historically linked communities.
A portfolio publication and artists edition will be published in March 2020 by Ten O’Clock Books.
BBC Radio 4 Front Row interview with Kirsty Lang.