The East Side Setnet Fishery on Alaska’s Upper Cook Inlet has been sustainably harvesting wild sockeye salmon for over a hundred years. Largely multi-generational family owned operations, these families and crews gather together each summer along the shores of the Cook Inlet not only in hopes of a successful harvest and profitable season, but also to participate in the traditions, the history, and the community that each fish camp embodies in its own way.
These photographs document one particular fish camp where I have worked for the past 10 summers, as both a deckhand and a captain. Each summer we return to our fishing sites to work hard, to play hard, but also to simply experience the beauty and the wonder that is to be found in rugged, honest work, on the sea and on the shores of Alaskan waters.
Fish Camp is an ongoing series of photographs documenting an East Side Setnet Camp on the Upper Cook Inlet of Alaska, a camp that comes together each summer for the commercial harvest of wild sockeye salmon as they return to spawn in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. I have worked in this camp for a decade, first for 4 years as a deckhand, and since 2008, as a permit holder, captain and owner of my own small operation.
When I first began traveling to Alaska, I was struck more than anything by the contrast between the stark beauty of its landscapes and the weathered state of disrepair in which much of its towns and outlying communities appeared to be. I have come to find Alaska to be a place where the realities of its seasons, the expanse of land, coastline, open water, and the extremity of its industries combine to create not only unique lifestyles among its inhabitants, but in particular a culture of work that is often misrepresented and misunderstood by the “lower forty-eight”. In 10 summers spent in Alaska, of all the things I have pointed my camera at, I have become most drawn to make pictures of the people that I work with because I find the allure of Alaska’s character more prominently displayed than anywhere else on the faces of the individuals that live its narrative season after season. This is a character which ultimately gives view of a cultural landscape that plays out on one of the greatest stages of land, water, and horizon that I have ever been privileged enough to witness.
In taking these pictures, it is not my intention to show how things “really are," for I believe these pictures tell a fiction of their own. Perhaps the story they tell is at its simplest the version that I like to remember the most. Alec Soth once said that the "art is the experience of moving through the world, the photograph is just some sort of documentation of this.” It is in line with this sentiment that I both marvel at the place that I have found Alaska to be and can think of no greater satisfaction than to be back on its shores as spectator, participant, and documenter.
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