Previews from photographer Peter Cunningham's newest book, Dead Reckoning in a River of Change, which explores Grand Manan Island and the rapidly disappearing way of life of its fisherman.
Grand Manan, a Canadian island in The Bay of Fundy, is still a land of big tides, wild winds, winter lobsters, and independent-minded people. My father came from Boston in the 30’s to study fog and in my 64 years on the island I’ve seen six generations come or go: I’ve witnessed a 19th century aural culture turn into 21st century facebook culture, I’ve witnessed a change from a hunter-gatherer economy, (a man alone in search of wild food to feed his family) to an agrarian culture in which a man receives an hourly wage working on a salmon farm.
The fishermen of my father’s generation depended on a form of navigation known as Dead Reckoning. They would guide their boats through thick fog, tidal currents, and howling night storms, armed only with a watch and a compass. When out of sight of their visual markers, they calculated only time and direction: 30 minutes NNW in a full ebb tide, then SSW for 6 minutes as the tide begins to turn and the wind shifted round to the North. It’s an art that’s entirely lost to my generation; without our machines, we don’t know where we are.
This evolution began in 1956 with the advent of the Fathometer, then came radar, Loren C, and now GPS. Myhron Tate told me that six months after he acquired his Fathometer, he lost his ability to Dead Reckon, a skill he had learned from his father Lester, who had learned it from his father who had learned it from his father, both captains of sailing schooners running between Maine to the Caribbean. Lester’s mother was a Passamaquoddy Indian, a people who paddled canoes across these dangerous waters to hunt seal and sell baskets on Grand Manan.
Now, in the Age of Google, we navigate through all recorded knowledge in a flash we catch more fish with fewer boats, and we’ve become so technically superior, so brilliant, that soon we’ll have hauled all the fish out of the ocean.
Peter Cunningham is a gifted and dedicated photographer. He sees the rhyme of the world and captures it with his camera. His new book Dead Reckoning in a River of Change is remarkable not only for the world Peter reveals, but as well for the unique way he lays out each page, often stacking two photographs together in order to create yet another composition, to reinforce a motif or to evoke an even stronger presence.