Sunday, June 1, 2003
THE COST OF A LIVING
By BOB KEYES, Portland (Maine) Press Herald writer
Bruce McGinnis resisted the idea at first.
The Eastport boat captain had little interest in allowing a
photographer from away to spend time with him on his boat, especially
during the hazardous winter urchin season. "It's dangerous, even if we
are close to shore. Take a small boat and try to lift a ton of gear up
in the air when it's rocking, it can get tricky," says McGinnis.
He didn't like the notion of having one more person on deck and one
more life to look after.
But when photographer Earl Dotter explained that his project was meant
to enlighten people about the dangers of fishing and what crews are
doing to improve conditions, McGinnis changed his mind.
"The way I see it, you got to grin and bear it," says McGinnis, captain
of The Sea Wife, a 32-foot dragger. "At first, I wasn't keen on it. But
we can't bury our heads in the sand and hope the world goes away."
Dotter, a 59-year-old photographer from Maryland, began his documentary
project in the winter of 2000. In addition to his work in Eastport,
Dotter accompanied the crew of the Portland-based stern-trawler Edward
L. Moore for a seven-day trip 120 miles offshore. He also spent time
with fishermen from Wells to Vinalhaven.
An exhibition of his photographs, "The Price of Fish," opens at noon
today at Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co., 261 Commercial St.,
Along with the photographs are extended blocks of text that quote
fishermen about their work.
The opening is tied to today's Old Port Festival, but the exhibition
remains on display through Aug. 29. Dotter hopes the exhibition later
will travel to the midcoast and to Vinalhaven, although arrangements
have not yet been made.
The placement of the exhibition on Portland's waterfront is purposeful,
Dotter says. He hopes fishermen take the time to look at the photos of
themselves and their seagoing brethren.
"I want, first and foremost, to command the attention of commercial
fishermen who have survived serious accidents and brushes with death at
work. I believe that these photographs, combined with the fishermen's
words, are an important medium that allows them to communicate with each
other. It is a means for them to encourage specific practical steps
toward a safer commercial fishing industry," he says.
In a bigger view, the goal of "The Price of Fish" is to educate the
public not only about the dangers of fishing, but the amount of work
involved. "The average person doesn't have a clue what it takes to put
fish on the plate," he says.
Michael P. Bourque, director of corporate marketing and communications
for Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co., said his company agreed to
host "The Price of Fish" because the exhibition relates to the company's
larger goals. "While our company doesn't insure fishermen, our mission
is to promote workplace safety wherever we can. This exhibit gives us
that opportunity and helps to call attention to the work done by our
neighbors here on Commercial Street in Portland," he says.
Dotter has been documenting hazardous working conditions for more than
30 years. In the 1970s, he lived among coal miners. Later, he expanded
his work to steel mills, textile mills, construction, logging,
health-care facilities, farming, maximum-security prisons and, most
recently, emergency responders working on the pile at Ground Zero in New
York City after 9/11.
The fishing project came about in 1999 when Dotter accepted an
invitation to become a visiting scholar at the Harvard School of Public
Health's Occupational and Environmental Health Program. A grant from the
Alicia Patterson Foundation gave Dotter the means to pursue his work in
Over the next decade, Dotter intends to focus on the five most
dangerous industries in America: Commercial fishing, logging,
firefighting, construction and agriculture. "I see the next 10 years as
the final phase of active photo documentation work, and hope that by the
time it is truly complete it will span nearly half a century," he says.
"My wife tells me she expects me to live to at least 90 and die with the
camera in my hands, but we'll see."
Among the 71 photographs in "The Price of Fish" is a series of images
of Douglas Goodale, who lost his right arm in a winch accident while
lobstering off Wells Harbor in 1998. Goodale spent two seasons
overhauling his 35-foot boat, "Tabby Brat," to accommodate his physical
needs. Goodale still fishes, although he's more watchful of the
conditions he fishes in these days.
He told Dotter during the project, "Let's face it, for me it's a hard
occupation with already being injured. These safety rules were made
because people are getting killed. The wardens are finding drowning
victims, fishermen burnt up, blown up - all kinds of accidents over and
over again. These accidents all end up as laws."
Looking back, Goodale welcomed Dotter's probing eyes. "When he started
coming around and taking pictures and whatnot, you didn't really know he
was around. I have done some interviews and things with other people
before, and they were poking, pushing and demanding. Not Earl. He was
real easy to get along with."
The centerpiece of the exhibition are the images that Dotter took while
spending his week at sea with the crew of the Edward L. Moore. The
photographs cover a variety of scenes and locales, including at port as
the crew loads groceries and at sea, when an 18-foot wave nearly pitched
first mate Gabriel Fula overboard. "I'm going," he shouted to his mates,
as he somersaulted four times but managed to stay in the boat.
The wave hit with such force, it washed the catch back into the sea,
By week's end, the crew returned to port on Christmas Eve in the midst
of a snowstorm with 21,362 pounds of fish.
The experience jolted Dotter. "That was pretty rough for me. I lost
eight pounds and was sick half the time," he says.
The discomfort was well worth it, he adds.
"Encouraging an understanding of the true price of fish can serve to
foster the kind of respect hard-working New England commercial fishermen
deserve," he says.
THE PRICE OF FISH
Photographs by Earl Dotter
When: Noon to 2 p.m. today as part of the Old Port Festival. Regular
exhibition hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday,
through Aug. 29.
Where: Main lobby of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Co., 261
Commercial St., Portland
How much: Free