The Story Behind the Photograph with Colin McPherson

Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

This Saturday, 30th May 2020, is the twentieth anniversary of the day I took a photograph that has come to symbolise my work and the project Catching the Tide, which documented Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen. To mark the occasion, Document Scotland is hosting a special online event, where my colleague Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and I will be in conversation about the image, and what it has come to mean to me.

Entitled Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000, the photograph was the high point of a dramatic day spent with two fishermen as they worked on the large, sandy expanse of beach at Kinnaber, just north of the town of Montrose on Scotland’s east coast. The image came to represent many things about the work that the men undertook: the physical nature of it, the constantly changing weather and the adherence to using traditional methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon.

As the new century began, five years into my project, few could have imagined that two decades later a Scottish Government moratorium on net fishing on Scotland’s coast and in rivers would have effectively killed off the industry for good. At the time I took the photograph, there was an ever-dwindling number of men fishing this way around Scotland’s vast and varied coastline. The stocks of fish had withered, and pressure from scientists and anglers to stop the practice had led to the closure of the big salmon companies, leaving just a few individual fishermen and their families with the right to maintain working in a way which had sustained rural communities for centuries.

The photograph itself has become the leading image for a project which lasted two decades. Since I started photographing Catching the Tide in 1995, the work has been published and exhibited extensively, both in Scotland and internationally. The image has been used to illustrate newspaper and magazine articles and has appeared in reference books on the subject of the salmon.

For me personally, this one single image came to encapsulate everything about the project. It was not the first, or last, photograph, but undoubtedly the most significant. As well as being published widely, it also resides in a number of important archives, such as the photography collections of the National Galleries of Scotland the University of St. Andrews and others.

To mark the occasion, I have produced a special, limited edition A3 commemorative poster, which you can buy from my website. All the proceeds raised from the sale will go towards photographing Catching the Tide, the Final Chapter, which will commence later this year.

I hope you can join us on Saturday, when we will explore and discuss many of the aspects of how, where and when the photograph was taken. I look forward to seeing you then.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin.

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Caught on film

 

We all get 15 minutes of fame, so the story goes. To stretch the Warholian reference, in 2005 I got the best part of half-an-hour starring on prime time television. Not strictly true, I admit. It was my photography and the subject of my work which captured the attention of the nation. I was merely a narrator. A walk-on part in my own story. I was reminded of this episode in my career as the short film was first broadcast exactly seven years ago today and featured my work with Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen, a project which had already been ongoing for around a decade.

Entitled ‘Catching the Tide’ and commissioned by Scottish Television and Grampian Television, it allowed me to introduce my work and two of the pivotal figures in the salmon netting community with whom I had formed a strong bond and collaborated with over the years. The film was a family affair: directed by my sister Katrina McPherson and edited by her husband Simon Fildes. Filmed beautifully by cameraman Neville Kidd, the documentary managed to capture the ever-changing weather, dramatic scenery and the perseverance and effort required by the fishermen. Having worked with the whole crew and production team previously as a stills photographer on a number of projects, I felt completely at ease during the filming, even managing to keep seasickness at bay during a stormy afternoon at the bag nets off Auchmithie.

I’ve no idea what the viewing figures were like, but I did get a lot of feedback about the film and the photography. Most was positive; some was negative; a couple of letters were threatening. I knew I was tackling a very sensitive story with the film. The salmon netsmen have many enemies, particularly within the powerful angling fraternity. Those critics didn’t like the slant of the content. My view was that my work was ventilating a particular point-of-view. Anyone can disagree with or criticise that perspective. That is their right. I felt strongly that it was story which had to be told.

The film went on to be repeated on terrestrial television and has been shown subsequently at a number of film festivals across the world, including the Tehran Film Festival, which threw up the tantilising prospect of my words being dubbed into Persian!

For me, it was an interesting way to diversify the direction of a project which was very close to my heart and which I had been associated with for many years. It showed just how a project can change direction and mutate during its lifetime. And it gave me my 24 minutes of fame.

To view the whole film on the internet, or to buy a DVD copy, please visit: http://www.left-luggage.co.uk/catchingthetide.com/Movie.html

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