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  • I've been doing a (slowly) ongoing project on sustainable fishing in a remote rural location on the Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. Nothing terribly spectacular - just a gentle story about two sons, Ronan and Kenny, following their two fathers George and Nick, into fishing, and working from the same ancient pier their two fathers worked from in the 1960's. Both fathers are now semi-retired but run an oyster farm just round the corner from the pier, with everyone helping out as needed, both ashore with the oysters, and afloat with the brown crabs and lobsters. It's very hard work, in an economically challenged area, wholly reliant on a transport infrastructure that's a wee bit frayed at the edges, and pretty much dependent on a seasonal tourism industry. However tourism has actually increased year on year recently thanks to one thing - the reintroduction of sea eagles and a good deal of subsequent tv nature docu exposure which has dramatically increased visitor numbers eager to see these spectacular birds.

    This is all set against the area being a candidate Marine National Park and as you might expect there's been a load of political machination and a perceived lack of consultation with local people, who were gaining the impression that they could not be trusted to manage the sustainable fishing they'd been undertaking for decades.

    But intruding on all of this when I was last there in mid-winter was the noticeable effect of climate shift on the oyster farmers work. Relying on the gap between low and high tide to fetch, sort and return their oysters to the growing racks, they really need to hustle. However because of the particularly unusual low pressure systems that were occurring the tidal range had been affected, drastically shortening their working window and necessitating a lot of wading to almost waist level in the freezing sea to access the racks. Wearing waders of course, but on the day I caught some of these images Nick had discovered a leak in his wader and had no time to return home for another pair so endured several hours of serious discomfort with a badly frozen foot.

    To add another layer of interest, a few weeks before my last visit, there had been a University archaeological dig in the small knoll behind their oyster sorting shed, which had uncovered ash layers, charred shell fragments and other evidence of sustainable harvesting of marine resources in this one bay going back almost 6000 years. (I'd like to photograph some of their finds in situ at some point).

    Now all of this was going through my mind as I looked for images, but although I was capturing some fair shots I had this nagging feeling that I needed a key image, one that encapsulated the cyclical nature of all of this - the sons following the fathers and all set against 6000 years of other families utilizing the resources of this one remote bay.

    Then the tractor came down to haul bags back up the beach for sorting and I spotted the circle it was leaving in the gravel. I took a picture and made a mental note of it, but it didn't really work for me, its too much about the tractor and not enough about the people. And the quickly rising tide was flooding in and would soon cover the circle, so on I went snapping and looking for other angles.

    Within a few minutes the tractor departed and I spotted Nick coming from one direction and his son Kenny coming from the other and realized that if I really legged it and was lucky I might catch the pair of them in the circle. There followed an undignified flapping wellington boot and cumbersome waterproof-trousered sprint, cameras, cables, flashes and bumbag flying all over the place and then a breathless button press.

    I got only one frame, but it was what I wanted. Its not any prize winner, and it is in many ways an unremarkable image, but I'm really happy with it.

    It captures a father and son each lost in their own thoughts, oblivious to each other and to me, and 'held' within the circle of their own making. A simple line in gravel that's a consequence of their labour becomes a visual metaphor, a 'loop' of sorts that hints at succession, the world around them, their passing through, and whatever else you want to read into it.

    Within 15 minutes it was gone, as the rising tide swallowed it.

    Sometimes you just get lucky.
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