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Fishing the Minch, by David Gordon

1 November 2019

In the late seventies I persuaded my south London secondary school art teacher to let me out of school once a week to wander around art galleries.

One Wednesday I visited the Half Moon Photography Workshop which was under construction in Bethnal Green. I was made welcome in what was pretty much a derelict shop with offices where Camerawork magazine was produced and a photography resource centre being planned.

Explaining my interest in photography I was encouraged to find a ‘project’, given a box of paper and told to come back with some contact sheets. Returning with pictures of the Woolwich Ferry I’d show them and listen to advice from the staff and any photographer passing through.

Eventually my photography improved and I was confident enough to start a new subject.

I returned to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, a town where I’d grown up watching the comings and goings of fishing boats. I knew the skipper of one boat, the Fiery Cross, went aboard and photographed the crew at work as they fished The Minch – the stretch of water between the north west coast of Scotland and the Western Isles.

I photographed all aspects of the fishing and Harris Tweed industries as well as daily life and went back the following spring to spend another week on the Fiery Cross. By summer I was spending more time in Lewis than London and I took a job as an assistant with the local photographer, where we photographed anything from babies to oil rigs. All the time I continued to take my own pictures of daily life in the islands.

Eventually, deciding the life of a wedding photographer wasn’t for me, I returned to London where I visited the HMPW again. The place was still a building site, hidden behind hoardings but someone had an idea that while the gallery was still being built, they could have an exhibition outside and my pictures from the Hebrides were suggested.

A selection of my fishing pictures were stuck up with wallpaper paste. The country’s first fly posted photo exhibition - we decided at the time. I printed two sets of pictures expecting them to be vandalised, but they were never touched.

Years later people were telling me I should ‘do something’ with these now archive pictures. A co-incidental phone call from a PhD student researching photo organisations from the 1970s was the catalyst and I set about re-editing, re-discovering the work and finding previously overlooked pictures. Finally the photographs are being shown again. Expanding on the original fly posting show, they are this time indoors at the museum in Stornoway.

I find many of my pictures have an immediacy but after a few years start to look stale. Then they become dated and of little interest. But after more time has passed - as society noticeably changes - they start to become interesting again. I hope today’s young digital photographers are taking the same care to look after their computer files as I was able to do with my negatives. Hopefully in another forty years their pictures will also be a portal back to lost past and not just lost forever.

“Fishing The Minch” an exhibition of photographs from the Isle of Lewis between 1978 and 1980, is showing at Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway, until 21st December 2019.

David Gordon is an independent photojournalist based in Glasgow. He has worked via agencies including Select, Katz and Corbis Sygma and for international publications such as Der Spiegel, Newsweek and Time. In 1999 he was one of the founding members of EPUK.

See more work by David Gordon

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