In his latest photobook, Luke Stephenson revisits the locations where Britain’s biggest fish were caught
“I hope the book gives people a glimpse into the world of angling and the passion and dedication that some people have for the sport.”
- Daniel Milroy Maher
- 7 December 2021
Luke Stephenson has spent the last 16 years documenting the many eccentricities of British culture, from prize budgerigar fancying to the World Beard and Moustache Championships to the story of the iconic 99 ice cream. Since we last spoke to him in 2017, Luke has been developing his photography practice, revisiting some older projects in the hope of finding inspiration and better understanding the journey he has been on. “A couple of years ago I sat down and really dug into my archive of work, right back to when I started university, and it was a very interesting process,” he says. “I could see themes in my early work that I’m still interested in today, and some other themes that I hadn’t even noticed were present in my work.” As always, this process of looking back helped him to move forward and he points to a quote by Maya Angelou that he feels sums up this period of reflection: “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.”
Though, judging by Luke’s latest project, which is soon to be released as a book, where he’s going isn’t a far cry from where he’s been. British Record Fish, a series that looks at the historic pastime of angling in the UK, and particularly at anglers who have caught record-breaking fish, again taps into a quintessentially British piece of culture. Speaking on his initial draw to the subject, Luke says: “I was doing the dishes and listening to Radio 4 one evening when a story about a large shark that was caught off the coast of Cornwall came on. The presenter was chatting to someone from the British Record Fish Committee and I was immediately very interested. I did some research and came up with the idea.”
The book presents the reader with 31 different record catches, each approved by the committee and validated through the provision of a picture of the fish, the weight of the fish (gathered using scales verified by the National Measurements Office, the location of the capture, and the rod and tackle used. All of this information must be provided to certify the record and the stringent nature of this process captivated Luke. He realised that not only would these details act as fascinating archival material within the context of a book, but they also provided him with a way into this story. After getting permission from the committee to access the records, and tracking down the record holders to ask for their involvement in this project, he then travelled to each of the locations to document the surrounding landscapes where the huge fish were caught.
“I made a plan to take the photographs within a month of the original date the fish were caught, so the seasonality of the locations would be as close to the time the record took place as possible,” explains Luke. “It took me all over the country from the south of England to the highlands of Scotland and Northern Ireland.” Compared to Luke’s usual way of working, this approach felt markedly more easy going. Gone was the cumbersome equipment and controlled indoor settings that feature so heavily in his practice, and in their place was a camera, a tripod and the open road. “I hadn't really taken landscape photographs since I was at university and I found it to be quite liberating,” he recalls.
As is often the case with Luke’s projects, the sense of intrigue and the process of discovery here is as important as the finished product. If a commonality can be found between the series that make up his portfolio, it’s a feeling of following your nose, of observing an arguably mundane occurrence or hearing an everyday piece of information and questioning it, seeing where it takes you. It’s through doing this that he manages to move beyond the mainstream, showing us aspects of our culture in a new light and ultimately bringing us closer to the British way of life.
GalleryLuke Stephenson: British Record Fish (Copyright © Luke Stephenson, 2021)
Luke Stephenson: British Record Fish (Copyright © Luke Stephenson, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.