Fishing the Minch

A member of the Fiery Cross' crew at the stern on a showery evening, on April 30 - May 3 1979. © David Gordon, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks

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Historic photographs of a vanished way of life aboard a Hebridean fishing boat are being displayed in Oban’s Rockfield Centre this summer, in an exhibition called Fishing the Minch by David Gordon.

As a young photographer, David boarded the ‘Fiery Cross’, a fishing boat based in Stornoway on the Western Isles.

With skipper Donald MacDonald and his crew, he journeyed to the Minch – the strait of water between the Outer Hebrides and mainland Scotland as the crew trawled for their catch.

The Fishing the Minch photographs were uniquely exhibited in what at the time was described as ‘the first flyposted exhibition in the country’ by the Half Moon Photography Workshop in the East End of London in 1980.

Today, almost 40 years later, the entire edit of these historic images has been rediscovered, scanned and printed. They show the wider industry and daily life in Stornoway during the late 1970s and early 80s.

This is a fascinating glimpse into a world of work and play that has now all but disappeared. Shot in a classic 35mm black and white documentary style, David’s narrative takes the viewer from the rough seas of the Atlantic back to the photographer’s boyhood town.

In the Young’s factory women hand peel prawns; in the Rolf Olsen’s processing plant, fish is frozen and salted. On a Friday night, the chip shop is full. In a bar, a drunk sleeps off his whisky at closing time.

The next morning a solitary rabbit is the only life on a solemn, grey, Presbyterian Sunday morning before the churchgoers gather in the thin afternoon light.

These tender, quiet images are a portal back to a lost past, yet in their simplicity they echo a rhythm that is timeless and entirely recognisable.

The exhibition will be on show until Saturday August 13.