on getting involved

_X2A1400One of the biggest joys of being a travelling documentary photographer is the fact that it gives you a reason to get involved in things that you might otherwise not do.  This image is a typical case in point.  On holiday in Java a few months ago I came across fishermen on the beach hauling their nets.  I guess that most casual observers would just look on with interest for a few minutes, maybe stand back and take a generic picture and then move on and go for a beer or something.  But I love these opportunities, it's what keep things interesting.  It doesn't matter that this was not a paid story or assignment - and it doesn't matter that I was there on holiday, what does matter was that I could see that there was a human interest story that caught my attention and I could see that there were images there to be made given a little time and involvement.

A bit of interest is all it takes to get involved - within minutes of arriving I had dropped my bag off in one of the boats and was joining in hauling nets up the beach with the rest of the crew.  This was all the passport I need in order to get good pictures -  suddenly you are accepted by everyone and images come freely.  Show a few images around and soon everyone is happy to be photographed.  After 10 minutes of ordinary pictures with people smiling and waving you soon blend into the background and this is when good images start to appear.  No longer do people look into the lens and no longer do they behave in an un natural way.  On paid assignments this time to relax with people is often something you don't have the luxury of, ideally it would be great to spend hours with people before even considering taking a picture.

I returned to this little group of people several days in a row - helping to pull the nets, shoot a few pictures, help some more.  Launching the boat, one of the fishermen gesticulated for me to get in and go with them as they cast their nets - I had no idea whether it was going to be a 5 minute or 5 hour trip but jumped at the chance to get more involved.  I'm heading back to Java again next week and will go and see the fishermen again taking some prints with me to give as a thank you - and no doubt I'll spend more afternoons with them helping to pull the nets and shooting  a few pictures but above all just sharing a few minutes with people that you might otherwise not meet.

The opening image has very recently been used by a major broadcaster in a conference presentation on the art of storytelling.

Subsistence fishing - Lagos

Life for a lot of people in Nigeria is difficult - no, let me re-phrase that, it's very difficult. In the port of Apapa - across the water from the bustling city of Lagos - fishermen in tiny leaking boats cobbled together from hardwood planks, tin sheet and anything else that will keep out the water fish for whatever they can catch.  Dwarfed by the rusting hulls of large commercial trawlers from far away countries that long ago hauled their last nets, a fisherman slowly works his way along the quayside line fishing for anything he can catch - two small fish is all he had to show for the morning.

As a documentary photographer these are the sort of places and stories I'm drawn to - juxtapositions of ideas, places and lifestyles, the tiny precarious leaking fishing boat next to the huge rusting trawlers and the messages that could be symbolised by the positioning of one next to the other.

Nigeria fishing

Millions of people around the world live this hand to mouth existence, I've seen fishermen exactly the same as this in just about every single African country I've visited -  doing the only thing they know in order to put something on the plate.  It seems fishing is a tough way to make a living pretty much everywhere you go.