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Work / Photography

Jonathan Pivovar’s gritty portrait of the Bristol Bay salmon run in Alaska

New York-based photographer Jonathan Pivovar has captured the famous salmon run in Bristol Bay, Alaska. It’s the largest natural salmon run in the world with harvests exceeding 30 million each year. The series first started when Jonathan went out to work on Bristol Bay in 2015 after a friend “put in a good word” for him. “I wasn’t looking to take any photographs pertaining to this particular story – the story seen now came together during my time on the water in the 2016 season,” he says.

Seasons typically start in mid-June and last until mid-July, and Jonathan’s series captures the hard labour and windswept conditions the workers endure. To tell the story, he’s mixed shots of bleak seascapes with emotive portraits and still lifes of boat paraphernalia. “When taking photographs I was often looking for sculptures and readymade situations,” Jonathan explains. “I was looking for distance for my portraits and I was looking for a lot of blood too.” The grim shots of fish without their heads, buckets full of salmon open mouthed and muddy blood seeping into white chopping boards enhance the slight gloominess Jonathan has captured, as well as reminding the viewer of the sole purpose of everyone being there, which is to catch salmon.

Jonathan saw the sea as a big inspiration for the project and oddly thought a lot about Bruce Lee. “I specifically thought about how ‘water can flow, or drip, or creep, or crash’. The Bering Sea can be your best friend one day and your biggest challenge the next.” The photographer was keen to convey the “stillness and violence” of being out on the water as well as the people who choose to work and live out there. “The season is so short and everyone leaves to go elsewhere afterwards, so you can be whoever you want on the water, because you may never see them again.”

The photographer’s portrait of the salmon run is honest, raw and well-observed. From exploring the gruelling nature of fishing, Jonathan came to the conclusion that fisherman and women are “some of the hardest and toughest people in the world”.

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