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Extract From "Fisherwomen"

This is an extract taken from the article printed in Studies in Photography Spring 2021 published in April 2021

By Craig Easton

In recent decades, it seems, the representation of fishing and fishing communities has predominantly focused on the fisher ‘men’. I’m thinking of Herbert List, Jean Gaumy, Salgado, Nick Hedges etc and so I wanted to redress that and refocus our attention on the fisherwomen.

The early portraits, in 2013/14, were all contemporary fisherwomen, working mostly behind closed doors in processing factories and smokehouses around Aberdeenshire and Angus. They were doing essentially the same work as Hill & Adamson’s Newhaven fisherwomen had done 170 years previously but were now almost entirely unseen and unacknowledged. The camaraderie was still there, the pride in their work was still there and the banter and choice language was still there too – not least when a photographer turned up and was subjected to a constant stream of heckling! But I was welcomed. Many of the women said they were pleased to have the spotlight shone back on them and although some of them knew the history of the herring girls, many were amazed by the stories I told them and how I felt that their role was part of a long heritage of women working in fishing. 

It was at that stage that I realised I needed this work to make the connection between the contemporary experience and the history and so I started to make portraits of former herring girls – the last of a generation, almost all in their eighties and nineties now - who could remember the days of gutting and packing into barrels on the quayside and the annual migrations following the fleet. Back then, as the fleet followed the migrating shoals south from Shetland in May to Great Yarmouth in winter, the women would travel on land mirroring that journey and stopping to gut and salt pickle the catch in ports along the route. I started to record their stories and their memories, the last of this extraordinary band of travelling workers, a unique phenomenon in the history of British working women.


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