Monday, November 30, 2009

The Men of Iron Fish

This book is a companion piece to a photographic essay exhibited at the Elgin County Museum in conjunction with the show: Life and Leisure on Lake Erie (May 31,  to September 1, 2009). The images, one painting and 14 colour and black & white photographs were created by Jan Row. The descriptive text and the poem Waiting for the Engine to Cool is by Michael Wilson. This material was brought together to document in some small way, the commercial fishing industry on Lake Erie.

Copies of the book can be purchased on-line through at:

and at the Elgin County Museum:

Artist's Statement

The photographs in this exhibit are a selection from a body of images that document the work many men in our society do. Their work is grossly undervalued even though it is essential to the structure of our lives. When something is undervalued, the people associated with it can become marginalized and lose their voice in society. With this loss comes misunderstanding and alienation. The men who have allowed me access to their working lives have recognized my work as one way to illustrate the dignity and integrity of the best part of their lives. It is a way for them to share their own humanness with a society that rarely considers them.

Because I have come to know the men I photograph, I have experienced a shift in perspective. What I originally thought of as work that was miserable, dirty, alien, I now frequently see as beautiful in a classical sense. The economy of motion these men embody after a lifetime of doing specific, repetitive jobs under adverse conditions results in physical forms and poses that one can readily find in a sculpture garden or on a gallery wall. I attempt to express this beauty in my photographs because it is unexpected and leaves the viewer surprised. In that moment of surprise lies a shift in perspective and the potential for one to think differently, more receptively toward a subject previously thought alien. I am not presuming to tell the stories of my photographic subjects. I am suggesting that the viewers of my work have nothing to fear by letting the men tell their own stories.

This book also serves, in a small manner, to document a way of life that some consider to be under threat. As so many traditional industries and occupations are, the Lake Erie commercial fishery is struggling to cope with the pressures of a rapidly changing modern world. My hope is, that no matter what comes, the beauty and the value of the work these men do will not be forgotten.


The images in this collection were taken aboard the Lake Erie commercial fishing tug “Iron Fish”, on two separate occasions. I will always look back on those days with amazement that I was lucky enough to be asked along and with deep gratitude for the experience.

And so:

to the lake – thank you for being calm (“flat as piss on a platter”, she was), so I could keep my feet under me to make the shots,

to Gus (you are missed, friend), Bud, Boomer, Harold and Daniel – thank you for your patience while you managed to go ahead with your work as I scrambled around under-foot all day,

and to Mike – thank you – you made it happen.

Jan Row