Photographer explores key role of women in historic east coast herring ports – and in today’s industry

A photographic exhibition celebrating the significant role of women in the fishing industry has opened at the Shetland Museum and Archives in Lerwick.

The hands that gut the herring. The exhibition includes a photographic study of the hands and faces of the ‘herring lassies’. (Photos: Craig Easton)

The ‘Fisherwomen’ exhibition, by social documentary photographer Craig Easton, is part of a national touring show and explores the work of women along the historic route of the old herring fleet, from Shetland to Great Yarmouth.

This ‘compelling exhibition’ features large-format photographic portraits and audio interviews of long-retired fish- gutters from Shetland, alongside images of women working in today’s fish-processing industry.

Presented in three parts, the exhibition includes ‘Fisherwomen’ – contemporary portraits of women working in the processing industry, ‘Heritage’ – a photographic study of the hands and faces of the ‘herring lassies’, and ‘Journey’ – evocative black and white landscapes of former herring stations along the east coast of Britain, mirroring the route fisherwomen travelled from port to port gutting and packing herring.

Craig Easton said: “Fisherwomen is a celebration of the centuries-long tradition of women working in fishing, connecting that heritage with those working in factories and processing houses today.

“Shetland was always the place where the herring season started, and for me it is both the spiritual home of this project and the point at which the story begins. I am delighted to be bringing the work ‘home’.”

The new photographic exhibition at the Shetland Museum and Archives pays homage to the role of women – like Mary Williamson of Whalsay, pictured here – in the fishing industry, past and present. 

The exhibition, which runs until Sunday, 25 June, is a collaboration between Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts.

Hazel Sutherland, chief executive of Shetland Amenity Trust, said: “We are honoured to be showing this exhibition which has huge relevance to Shetland, and we hope will be of interest to a wide range of people.

“The underlying theme is one of connection and the sense of people and place. It demonstrates the hard-working women behind the fishing industry, and celebrates the valuable contribution that they made and continue to make.

“The exhibition is a poignant testimony to the historical and contemporary importance of these women.”

Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts will also be delivering a series of school and community events, which will include photographic and archive-inspired writing workshops, as well as a ‘herring- inspired social evening’.

More information is available here.

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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