Part 1. Scotland
(part 2. England will be made in summer 2019)
In the late part of the 19th century right up to the middle of the 20th century, the herring fishery was one of the most important businesses in Scotland. Each year as the herring shoals swam south through the north sea, the fishermen of the herring fleet followed them. The fleet began their journey in Shetland in the summer and for the next six months sailed south bringing their catch into the fishing towns and villages down the whole of the east coast of the British Isles. The annual pilgrimage ended each year in the early winter at the English seaside resorts of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.
Whilst the men were at sea a similar journey was undertaken by the ‘herring lassies’ or ‘fisher girls’ on shore.
The herring lassies would stay in cheap lodgings in each port as they travelled south, gutting and packing the herring on the quayside for long hours each day as the catch was landed. The cacophony on the busy quaysides with fishermen, children, buyers and sellers all hollering to boost their business meant the women developed their own distinctive character and the hustle and bustle attracted the attention of artists and photographers who documented the extraordinary scenes..
This project follows the journey of the original herring lassies in a celebration of the crucial role they played in the great fishing industry and meets the woman who still play that crucial role today, no longer on the quaysides but in fish sheds and processing factories right up and down the coast.
I am also a great fan of American artist Winslow Homer’s work and especially the paintings he made during his year and half sojourn in the small village of Cullercoats just outside Newcastle in the north east of England. During this time he made a series of paintings of fish wives and herring girls. I look back at his paintings made in the 1880s and the black and white photographs of the women on the quayside and my aim with this project is to produce a series of pictures that documents the role that women still do in fishing today, but now unseen.