Feature: An Interview with Corey Arnold

February 23, 2012

(Salmon Shark, 2010, 20x27 inches, C-Print)

Corey Arnold’s photography has seized my imagination since it was first printed in Juxtapoz back in 2008, and his new series is no disappointment. “Wolf Tide” opens this Saturday at Richard Heller Gallery with deep running themes of our current political and economic unrest woven through an expansive rural landscape marred by human wreckage.


Not confined to one location or subject matter, “Wolf Tide” adds a new dimension of sociopolitical commentary to Corey’s 10-year photo documentation of the international fishing industry. Unplanned themes reveal themselves: mountains, fish, birds; a figure transfixed on the horizon. Animals and sojourner humans are dwarfed by vast landscapes, calling to mind the post-apocalypse or perhaps a time capsule of pre-industrialism.


As I interview Corey for the second time I can’t help but ask myself: what draws these fishermen back to the wilderness year after year? Are they half crazy, living on the fringe among bears and mosquitoes to haul 10,000 pounds of fish each day? Or should we be the ones following them into the horizon; where every gaze seems to be held? —Kirsten Incorvaia (http://kirsteninc.com)

(Throw Down the Mountain, 2010, 39x56 inches, C-Print)

K: Your photos don’t just show us moments of everyday life but they take viewers into faraway human experiences. To me, the storytelling you achieve in each image is just as important as the colors and light. Throw Down the Mountain stands out in your new series, as there are no fishing boats or wildlife to be found, how does this moment fit into your travels?


C: Throw Down the Mountain was made while I was traveling in Greece, exploring the fishing industry in the Mediterranean. Honestly, I didn't have a lot of luck in Greece with the fishing as most of the action takes place at night with the lights off.


K: How did you happen upon this lonely road and what made you stop to photograph it?


C: This is on the island of Kythira off the Southern tip of Greece. There are very small-scale inshore fisheries nearby. The mountain is home to a fortress that is lit up at night by powerful floodlights. I was staying in a little cottage nearby and driving this road daily to get to a couple nearby fishing ports. One night, I stopped at dusk to photograph the mountain and as my exposures got longer, the mountain melted into a cauldron of magma. It’s a bit ironic that Greece is now in the midst of a greater economic meltdown.


(Kitty’s Sea Journey, 2006, 20x29 inches, C-Print)

K: I recognize this tabby from your book, Fish-Work: The Bering Sea. And I recognize the crab pots from an unhealthy addiction to reality TV. From what I’ve seen there aren’t too many cats on board Alaskan crab boats, so how did Kitty find herself at sea?


C: Well, my cat was on board the f/v Rollo for two crab seasons. This was taken on her first trip out. She was out of her mind excited from just about everything. We gave her a really generic name: Kitty. We were all worried that she might not make it through the season. There are endless hazards on a crab boat in the Bering Sea. My captain had amazing stories from the last cat that lived on the Rollo, but after a few seasons it had been suddenly swept off the back deck by a bald eagle.


K: Despite the risk, I bet the crew needs some entertainment and companionship living on a boat for weeks at a time. Where did you find this brave feline?


C: I went to the pound and started letting different cats out of their cages to see how they would react. Were they skittish, or brave? Kitty came flying out of her cage and started attacking a fake mouse toy on the ground immediately. I knew right away she was right for the job. She was tiny.


K: She was in for the thrill of her life. What did Kitty find on her sea journey?


C: She would climb around in the maze of stacked crab pots on deck stalking seabirds. I caught her sneaking up on an eagle that was 5 times her size once, so after that we decided to lock her up in eagle country. She was almost too fearless. She’d come out on deck and stand under dangling 800-pound crab pots. Now she's fat, sleeps all day, and destroys my power cords when she’s hungry.


(Nakeen, 2010, 30x44 inches, C-Print)


K: A new setting has been showing up in your work: green, open landscapes marred by deserted buildings and corroded fishing equipment. Tell us about this place.


C: Every summer, I work as a commercial salmon fisherman in Bristol Bay, Alaska. There are about 130 of us that sleep within the walls of an abandoned cannery and fish from small skiffs offshore. The camp is called Graveyard Point. While the season is on, the camp is bustling with tired fishermen setting out from the mud in small skiffs every change of tide. Sometimes, Fish and Game shuts us down to allow more fish upriver to spawn and we get a day or two of free time to roam.


K: The piece Nakeen really calls to mind a zombie apocalypse. What are these fishermen trudging towards at what feels like a snail’s pace?


C: The tides are immense, up to 30 feet in difference from low to high in as little as 5 hours. There are more canneries nearby and changes in river course have left some isolated by mile-long stretches of mud (including the pictured “Nakeen”).  When not fishing, we sometimes take excursions up river and explore the old residences. Eagles have taken over, along with the foxes. Giant grizzly bears roam the shores. There is a lot of history and lore surrounding these places. A fisherman friend that lives in our camp once tried to spend a winter out in Nakeen. In the darkness, out the window, faces would sometimes appear.


(The Lookout, 2010, 30x40 inches, C-Print)


K: Birds aren’t fond of being snuck up on. How did you creep up so close to this Bald Eagle?


C: It's rare at Graveyard Point for eagles to come near to us. This one seemed preoccupied with something in the horizon and I kept creeping nearer. The tide is going out, and it stayed transfixed on the horizon. When making pictures of Bald Eagles, you can't avoid its symbolic representation of America, and this eagle standing on wreckage watching the water drain out of the tub seemed somehow appropriate for the times.


K: Most Americans have never encountered an eagle in person. As a fisherman who sees them every day on the job, what do eagles come to signify beyond the cliché of American freedom?


C: Even though there are so many in Alaska, they are always exciting to watch. Seagulls are annoying and obnoxious, but eagles always command respect. They are not our competitors. Back in Dutch Harbor we would throw frozen herring strait up in the air and eagles would swoop down and catch them in their talons every time.


K: Well Corey, thank you for sharing a few travel stories with us! As always, it’s been a pleasure and good luck with your show.

( American No.1, 2010, 20x25 inches, C-Print )

( Bound, 2010, 30x38 inches, C-Print )

(Kirsty Posey, 2010, 20x25 inches, C-Print)

( Moose Packed, 2008, 30x40 inches, C-Print )

( On Table Mountain, 2006, 30x44 inches, C-Print )

( The Past, 2011, 30x40 inches, C-Print )

Corey Arnold
Wolf Tide
February 25—March 31, 2012
Richard Heller Gallery

Santa Monica, California


Corey Arnold: http://coreyfishes.com/

Richard Heller Gallery http://richardhellergallery.com/