John Cole records over twenty years of Hastings’ fishing industry. By Emma Harwood

Hastings’ beach-launched fishing fleet is arguably the heart and soul of this seaside town and the lifeblood of the community. Its thousand-year-old heritage has drawn journalists, artists and photographers from far and wide hoping to capture some of its history, romance and often brutish way of life in print, paint or words.  But none will have been able to capture what photojournalist John Cole has achieved in his body of work ‘Fishing for Generations.’ 

Mark and Richard Ball, brothers, pushing boat out to sea, 1991
PICTURE: John Cole

His exhibition at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, which opens Saturday 15th June, is more than a photographic exhibition.

It is a unique record captured by working with Hastings fishing families for over twenty years. It is an insight into an industry that is proportionally the UK’s second most dangerous profession and, as he points out, it is an important record of the changing political and economic circumstances that have led a once thriving industry possibly to the edge of extinction.

When Cole first visited Hastings from London in 1991 there were over 40 boats on The Stade. Today there are just 25. He recalls from that first visit that while he was initially able to photograph some fishermen “attempts at further conversation were generally futile. But I persisted, and over the next two years I was able to win the trust of the fishing community.”

Robert and Shane Ball, father and son, out at sea, 2017
PICTURE: John Cole

On moving here from London in 2000, he was able to pick up where he had left off in 1991-2, in large part thanks to the encouragement and support of the Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society.

“For many fishing families, there is hope that with continuing legislation in favour of the Hastings under-ten metre fishing fleet, more young men and women will be able to make a living from the sea, thereby supporting local communities and supplying the freshest and most sustainably caught fish possible,” he says. “But many older fishermen now say that if economic and political circumstances do not change very soon, Hastings’ fishing fleet may become just another tourists’ attraction, rather than the vibrant fishing port it has been for almost a thousand years.”

Dean Brooker out at sea, 1991
PICTURE: John Cole

• Fishing for Generations by John Cole runs from Saturday 15th June until Sunday 27th October at Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, John’s Place, Bohemia Road, Hastings.

• For more information about John Cole visit http://johncole.co.uk/generations-hastings-fishing-families-gallery


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