Fish Porters revisited


Last year I decided to revisit the porters I got to know well while documenting their last year at the Billingsgate Fish Market. I was curious about what had happened to them since April 2012.

It was lovely to catch up with them and I felt the story I had worked on was actually not finished.

Now I want to document how this group of working-class men has dealt with the loss of their jobs, work many of them had done for decades and even begun on leaving school at sixteen, following in their fathers and grandfathers footsteps.

I want to examine how they have negotiated a difficult labour market in recession-hit times; and how being stripped of their heritage and identity has affected them.

The story so far shows these men exclusively at work, proud of what they do, in a job that many might consider menial - heavy manual labour at unsociable hours. It was important to me to visually represent their dignity and so I chose to show them full-length in a very classical portrait.

Now my plan is to photograph and interview them in a more personal space – namely, amongst their homes, families and community.

In doing so I hope to broaden the perspective from a very specific context to one with a universal resonance. The demise of working-class trades is a growing global phenomenon. I believe it is important to examine the impact on the individuals involved, those immediately around them and our society as a whole.

But what would be my end goal? I talked to one of the porters about my idea when he was reluctant to participate. He said: "I don't really want to be shown as the out-of-work man. I don't want to give the people who fired me the additional satisfaction to see me distraught."

That was when the idea of a collaborative book took shape in my head: a book of photos (archival, family and mine) and their stories; be it made-up tales, angry accounts of injustice or funny anecdotes.
Now, seven months later, I am still very fond of this idea and want to pursue it; but one thing that always stood out for me observing this community of men, was their very unique banter, their way of showing how much they cared for each other by teasing one another, their love of stories and their language.

So it became obvious to me that film is the best medium to convey this essential part of their beings.

So far I have interviewed three of my eight porters, filmed three in a pub in Essex (photos below) and managed to get seven of them together in one East End pub for a three-hour filming session.

Although I have worked as a camera operator before, it was mainly in a studio setting and not the on-the-fly, documentary-style filming; so the learning curve is enormous, but very exciting.

I definitely want to continue this story; there are some promising talks of ongoing collaboration with media partners, at the same time as I am working out a clearer structure, message and story arc for the film.

So, enough talk. In the photos below are ex-porters Chris, Mickey and 'Pikey' Bill.

March 05, 2014