Award-Winning Photo Essay | The Last Trap Fishermen of Rhode Island
Starr’s photos, and the audio recordings he makes of his subjects, stitch generations past to those who carry on. He knows that one day, when the last floating trap is taken ashore, when the men you see on these pages have grown old–for the average age of a trap fisherman is 55–what will be handed down after lifetimes of setting and hauling, of feeding neighbors and strangers, may be only stories and photos. “I see history disappearing,” Starr says. But he doesn’t wring his hands. Instead, he carries his two Nikons, stuffs his pockets with batteries and memory cards, and finds the history happening right now, in front of him.
When he went to sea with the trawlers, Starr suffered dreadful seasickness–but he shot thousands of images. One day in Point Judith, he noticed some traps and the curious-looking longboats, and he had to know more: “With the fishermen, I say, ‘This is who I am. This is what I want to do.’ They take me at my word. They say, ‘Okay, just show up and stay out of the way.’ I stay out of the way. And I know not to stand in stupid places. And I never ask anyone to pose. They’re a great group to work with.”
When Starr’s work is done, he makes a point to take his prints to the fishermen. Proudly displayed on their walls are photos of the boats of their fathers and uncles, and their grandfathers before them, and beside them go the new ones: past and present bonded by sea and fish and work, fastened there by Markham Starr.