Fishing here means craftsmanship: it’s not about monster trawlers scooping tons of fish into their giant nets. Photojournalist Théo Giacometti went to Sète, on the Mediterranean, to meet the men who earn their living from artisanal, sustainable, and respectful fishing. His photographic project was carried out in partnership with the NGO Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which fights overfishing through the implementation of a certified sustainable-fishing label.
A bond of trust
“I wanted to get to know these people who are artisans, who work all alone on their boats, who know the environment,” explains the photographer. Théo Giacometti headed for the port of Sète nestled between the Étang de Thau and the Mediterranean: he embarked with bluefin tuna fishermen. This queen species of the Mediterranean is endangered and fishing is highly regulated. The fishermen defend their traditional way of fishing done by human strength alone. The photographer needed to gain their trust in an environment where people are reluctant to reveal the secrets of their profession.
“I have worked a lot with the farming community and I found some common points. These people are not used to having a camera pointed at them all day, to be put in the spotlight, but I find this is one more reason to do so,” said Theo Giacometti, who is sensitive to “the untamed side of the sea and of these men.” One must slowly fade into the background, to be accepted on the boat. One must be present without getting underfoot.
Like the photographer, the fishermen have a lot of patience: they pass hours at sea, from early morning till dusk, sometimes without a single specimen in their fish holds. “If there is one thing I have learned, it is that at sea something always goes wrong. There’s a lot of waiting, a lot of downtime where nothing happens. And there’s always magic in that. You can spend days on end without catching any fish. It’s a question of luck,” says Théo Giacometti.
Just like the photographer, the fisherman is also on the lookout for the decisive moment. All of a sudden, the tuna is there, at the end of the line. “You’ve been waiting for four hours and suddenly everything starts to happen. You go from calm into a storm. You only have one chance: you must not miss a thing. Everything is in motion, and you don’t want to get in [the fishermen’s] way. That’s when it happens.”
On board, Théo Giacometti is equipped only with his Leica M and his 35 mm camera. With handheld frame and texture, he abandons the cliché “National Geographic” style, “which uses a 16 mm camera to create a clean and crisp image, allowing you to see the whole boat at a glance. That’s not how I work. Right now, I’m on a very small boat with a 35mm camera. I know I won’t be able to capture everything. I have one frame and it’s a given that I will lose some information, but this approach allows me to make things consistent.”
Giacometti limits himself to a certain frame and maintains consistency, which lends the image a sense of intimacy. The details are charged with emotion: for example, these postcards of Saint Peter and the Virgin Mary, tucked into the cabin window, curled by the humidity; the force exerted on the fishing rod by Vincent D’Aquino, the hooded fisherman on deck in the December cold; or the silver head of the tuna poking out of the water… And all these shots are taken on a boat tossed by the waves.
“It’s a bit tricky because the boat is rocking, and I need both hands to focus, unlike a camera with an autofocus. I was trying to prop myself as best as I could against the boat.” One could of course get into a small Zodiac boat and photograph the fishermen with a telephoto lens. But, Giacometti says, “That’s not my thing. I want to be in the middle of things, right there on the deck, walking in the blood: that’s where you get more than mere information—you capture the emotion.”
“I practice a craft just like they do, by the force of my hands”
Just like the fisherman and his rod, the photographer and his tool must strike a precarious balance. “I have no assistant, no flash. I only have my camera: I set the ISO, I move around to find a frame, but that’s it.” There are no tricks. “I practice a craft just like they do, by force of my hands. It’s a very primal side of photography, which corresponds to my way of photographing.”
Théo Giacometti likes to infuse his images with emotion, through words, which offer a glimpse beyond the frame. “The text is not just a bit of added information. I like to write to bring out something else, a little more subjectivity, rhythm, poetry, what it makes me feel.”
The result is a series of portraits of men, from the boat to the fish auction: dynamic scenes of fishing and magnificent natural light. The bluefin tuna comes out of the water, superb. This world of fishing is captured by a photographer respectful of the profession, with a craftsman’s eye and authenticity. And then, there is also the conversation. After four hours of waiting at sea, they chat over the Tiel Sétoise, a local specialty made with octopus. “We spend hours talking, going through barrels of rosé. These moments of togetherness are also why we do the job we do.”
By Michaël Naulin
Michaël Naulin is a journalist. Having worked in regional and national newspapers, he is above all passionate about photography and more particularly reporting.
To learn more about Théo Giacometti, visit his website.