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Henry Adams 1991 © John Cole

John Cole kickstarts photography book of Hastings fishing families

In 1991 photographer John Cole came down to Hastings from London to take a few photos of the fishing community. This initial brush with Hastings has, in many ways, been a life changer. What he thought would be a day or two of photography turned into a two-year project. Then eight years later he moved down to Hastings and continued taking photographs of the Hastings fishing community. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths spoke to him about his love for the Hastings fishing fleet and the town.

Graham & Darren Coglan Octobe 2012 © JohnCole

Graham & Darren Coglan October 2012 © John Cole

That day, thirty years ago, John Cole remembers “walking along the beachfront, photographing the fishermen at work, staying at a B&B in the Old Town, I fell in love with Hastings”. Over the years he has got to know the generations of families as children have grown up and joined their fathers on the boats. It’s a hard life. Although, dangerous as it is, the sea has a great pull on those who have earned their living by it and near it.

In 1991 there were over 40 boats on Hastings shingle beach front, The Stade (Saxon for landing place). Today less than ten boats regularly go out to sea. Recent Brexit negotiations have left many fishermen feeling stabbed in the back by the governmentFishermen now say that if economic and political circumstances do not change, Hastings’ sustainable fishing fleet may soon become just another tourist attraction, rather than part of the vibrant fishing port it has been for hundreds of years. It is conceivable that today’s young generation of fishermen may sadly be the last.

Jason & Will Adams and crew 2017 © John Cole

Jason & Will Adams and crew 2017 © John Cole

Fisherman Mark Ball, who John has photographed on the Stade and working out at sea, is struggling today in an industry that is unrelentingly harsh and fraught with political and environmental challenges. “I started fishing when I left school,” Ball said in a recent Guardian article, “and by the time I was I was 20 I had my own boat. You could make a living. You couldn’t do that today.”

Commercial fishing is proportionally the second most dangerous occupation in the UK. One striking image is of Henry Adams who Cole photographed in 1991. His eyes certainly have a story or two to tell. He started his career as a fisherman until one day he watched as a colleague got his legs tangled in rope, was pulled overboard and drowned. Henry never went out to sea again. He became a Boy Ashore – helping the fishermen bring their catch off the boat –  until he died in 1993.

“When I photographed him, I knew nothing of his history, which was later related to me by other fishermen. I was, and still am, struck by the piercing gaze of his eyes, set within a face etched with so many years of gruelling hard work at sea and on the beach.” His nephew and grandson continue to work as fishermen.

Cole has had exhibitions in the House of Commons, Stade Hall, Hastings Museum and elsewhere, and his images can be seen enlivening the black net huts. But he wanted something permanent and felt it was time to create a book. The future of the Hastings fishing community – as well as for all of the UK’s small fishing communities – is highly uncertain. “I feel that now is the time to publish Generations, as an in-depth record of our fishing fleet, creating a legacy that will last for generations.”

Mark & Jamie Ball © John Cole

To enable this project, Generations: Hastings Fishing Families, Cole has launched a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign  to raise £14,750 in order to bring the book to life. As a tribute for all the support they’ve given him, John will make a contribution from the profits of the sale of Generations to the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society. Depending on how much individuals pledge, donors will receive copies of the book, postcards, limited edition prints and on-line teaching… along with John’s undying gratitude.

John tells me: “This is a project very close to my heart, one that I hope will help bring awareness to the plight of Hastings fishing fleet, as well as to so many other small fishing communities throughout the UK and the world.”

John is also a teacher/mentor.

Read a previous HOT article about the fishing industry here.

 

 

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Posted 18:26 Wednesday, Mar 10, 2021 In: Photography

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