Sea, Salt and Solitude
SEA, SALT & SOLITUDE
CHRIS HEWITT & DEBORAH RICHARDS
A FUNDRAISER FOR THE FISHERMAN’S MISSION 2018
The Fishermen’s Mission is a small national charity providing support and short term welfare payments to fishermen and their families in ports and coves around the country. Fishing is the most dangerous peacetime activity: 100 lives have been lost at sea in the last 10 years. The Mission supports with small payments towards rent or mortgages or meeting small needs, as fishermen cannot qualify for the benefit system. The aim is to keep hearth, home and family together following an accident or death at sea, helping to get fishermen back on their feet and working again. It also works in conjunction with the NHS providing dockside access to medical and dental services and help fishing families and communities stay in touch. They provide dignified and personalised support to those in desperate need.
Following the huge success of Salt of the Earth, about the fishing community in Newlyn which raised £40K or so in 2014. Julian Waring (Fundraising Manager for the Fishermen’s Mission in the South West) wanted to repeat the idea in different ports. Moving North to Newquay, Padstow, Rock and Port Isaac this project would be similar to but not slavishly like the Newlyn book.
Photography was done on location, at harbours and in boats in a range of weather conditions. The backgrounds giving as much as the individuals: fish cellars in Port Isaac on a miserable wet March day, Newquay harbour portraying a challenge to the surfing stereo type and shots of individuals as working pictures rather than studio portraits. Individuals talking or laughing together, relaxed, human and varied, straight down the lens and comfortable. Some are magnificently creative, some bleak, others raise a smile. Chris’s photographs tell a story alone, all in black and white.
Narratives have been written from ‘interviews’ this time. The aim being to give direct voice to their stories. Large amounts (95% or so) are formed from exact quotes taped while talking to people, only re-configured to make them readable. Thus meeting Deborah’s wish to create a record of people involved in fishing today. A type of oral history. The interviews were intended to be like conversations over a pint in the pub or over a coffee at lunch. Each worked from between five and ten minutes recording. Some refused some were reluctant, fearful of ‘getting it wrong’. Some astonishing short stories are recorded while others could have filled whole books.
Across the four ports themes have appeared; rather than repeat the same words, different aspects have been chosen to weave into a whole. The thread is the same, but different tones and shades of the same colours are included. This gives the reader a sense of the complexities in these communities and how much individuals work to preserve their traditions and community spirit.
Fishermen’s Mission: the love and affection for the quiet, unassuming but critical work of the Mission has been astonishing. Testimony of help offered and accepted, of financial giving and volunteering, a type of social cement.
Families that fish: how many types of resources in families are combined to make a living. A living now more dangerous than ever as the economics have changed. Working alone, away from home for long periods of time result in solitude or isolation for both fisherman and their shore family.
Isolation and polarisation within communities: a sense of this divide is recorded as is the determination of ‘in-comers’ to contribute to community in a meaningful way.
The changing role of women: in fishing, family, working life and lifeboat crews, this theme is the most varied. Challenging assumptions and expectations, have been reflected in the narratives.
Levels of optimism and despair: the only editorial parameter was to keep Brexit and other political issues out. The future is expressed, sometimes optimistically sometimes despairingly but often focuses on resilience, keeping community and family pride buoyant.
The route from sea to plate: ‘fish don’t jump from sea to plate without my help’ showing a wide variety of fishing related jobs and employment, hoping to inspire the young to see jobs in our coastal communities as sustainable with both interesting and achievable employment.
Difficult subjects: no hiding from difficulty. The narratives describe some harrowing realities. Raw emotions and black humour are recorded, as are the different ways individuals cope with these situations.
Respect has been given to those not comfortable with sharing private grief. Mental health is covered too.
All the production costs have been met by four major sponsors, Padstow Harbour Commissioners, Prawn on the Lawn in Padstow, Sharps Brewery and Jackie Stanley.
Chris Hewitt is a professional photographer and gave his time and skills to the project.
Deborah Richards is a volunteer for the Fishermen’s Mission with a background in Cornish farming, small artisan food businesses and a writing has donated her time and skills for free
The book is available from www.fishermensmission.org (after November 3rd) various outlets across the County, The Great Cornish Food Store in Truro, shops in Wadebridge, Padstow, Port Isaac and Rock. All proceeds will go to the Mission