EYV 5 Photography is simple
What is it about?
In the 16th and early 17th centuries Brighton was the most prominent fishing town in Sussex, and four out of every five men were fishermen, but competition from other fishing communities, the seizure of boats by pirates operating out of France, severe erosion of the shoreline and a general fall-off in demand for fish combined to cause a decline in the industry from the latter part of the 17th century. By the late 18th century there were only 300 fishermen in Brighton, and the town’s emergence as a health resort led to the removal – after a long period of bitter dispute – of their traditional right to use the central Steine area (adjacent to the new Brighton Pavilion, the Prince Regent’s seaside retreat) to dry their nets and store their boats. Iron railings were installed around the Steine to enforce the decision by the town commissioners to abolish these historic practices.
The fishing industry continued to contract through the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1862 there were only 150 fishing boats operating from Brighton, by 1902 this number had fallen to 88 and by 1948 just 48 boats remained. Today a mere handful of fishermen operate from Brighton beach and another handful work out of an enclave of moorings allocated for this purpose in a remote corner of Brighton marina. Here the boats’ colourfulness and ramshackle appearance give these moorings a very different character from the other 98%, which are populated by leisure yachts and motorboats.
This sequence of images documents the preparations of one of Brighton’s few remaining fishermen as he gets his boat ready to sail out of the marina – preparations which he undertakes with a calmness, speed, dexterity and efficiency that clearly demonstrate that it is a routine he has practiced many hundreds of times before.
This was my fourth attempt at producing a response to this brief. I have posted the first three sequences I made and my reasons for rejecting them in a separate post on my learning log. Much of it boils down to the fact that this was the first assignment for which we were given free reign to select our own subject, and I found this freedom initially challenging – until I read Hurn and Jay (2008), which gave me invaluable insights into how to go about choosing a subject and why it’s important to do so. For this fourth sequence I followed the book’s advice, and instead of simply taking my camera out to see what I could find, as I had done previously, I selected my subject as the small fishing boats at the marina.
On my way to the location I thought about the fact that I didn’t have a specific plan in place for creating a narrative (which is what I interpreted the brief to be asking for in its requirements for each photograph to contain “some new information” and “a clear sense of development through the sequence”), but decided not to worry about that and to look for one when I arrived. To my complete astonishment, as I approached the area I saw that a fisherman was busy preparing his boat to set off on a catch. I have walked around this end of the marina many dozens of times in the past and have never before seen any of the fishing boats leaving or arriving.
I had been shooting pictures en route to the scene and had my camera set to manual mode with f/20.0 and ISO 500. I didn’t waste precious time changing these settings, but made a slight adjustment to the shutter speed to give me correct exposure. As a result the fisherman’s movements are blurred in many of the images. If I had had the time I would have changed the aperture to a larger setting to allow for a faster shutter speed, but as it turns out I am actually ok with the motion blur because it conveys a sense of the fisherman’s speed and efficiency as he zipped through the launch preparations.
Due to the fact that I was not using my tripod (and would not have had time to set it up before the boat departed) the framing of the images is inconsistent through the series, although this is partly due to the fisherman moving to different areas of the boat and jetty). I did try cropping and rotating the shots that cover the same area to make their framing more consistent, but found the resulting images lost a lot of their sense of movement. On reflection I decided that the irregular framing is not inappropriate for the documentary style of the images and in fact helps to give them a sense of veracity, so I decided to stick with the original uncropped versions.
Reflection after tutor feedback
I am very happy with the response I had to this assignment from my tutor, who pointed out some things that I hadn’t noticed about it such as its grid-like format, its unusual viewpoint and the consequent impression it gives of mapping the fisherman’s movements through the sequence. We discussed the fact that I have not yet reached the stage of being able to change my camera’s settings intuitively without consciously thinking about it, which is something that will come with further practice.
References and resources
Carder, T. (1990) The Encyclopaedia of Brighton. UK: East Sussex County Libraries.
Hurn, D. and Jay, B. (2008) On Being a Photographer (3rd edition). USA: LensWork Publishing.
My Brighton and Hove (2018) ‘Fishing and fishermen’. Available at http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/category_id__481.aspx [accessed 9 April 2018]
Visit my Harbour (2018) ‘Brighton Marina’. Available at http://www.visitmyharbour.com/harbours/channel-east/brighton-marina/expanded.asp [accessed 9 April 2018]