McArthur’s Store a project by Filmpoem founder Alastair Cook.

Alastair took a series of wet plate collodion tintype portraits of the fishermen who work from McArthur’s Store, an historic creel store on the Old Harbour in the small Scottish fishing town of Dunbar.

WET PLATE COLLODION is a photographic process dating from 1851 and was a primary method of capturing images until the 1880s. The process must be completed within ten minutes before the plate dries; this brings a certain intensity, offering the ability to produce mercurial and unique images.

The process captures an image directly onto glass or tin, which has been coated with collodion then steeped in silver nitrate to render it sensitive to light. Wet plate collodion balances light and time – the photographer’s decision – with a chemical process involving cleaning, washing, dipping, coating, mixing, fixing and drying. When the image first appears in the fix, a little smoky at first, it is startling, as if alchemy has been witnessed. This is a skilled craft and can be disrupted by many variables. What sets my work apart is its sheer physicality – these are sensuous, vital, vulnerable, proud portraits.

In 2012 and 2013, with the support of North Light Arts and Dunbar Harbour Trust, I set up a traditional dark room within McArthur’s Store, a building dating from 1658, working with the men in their place of work for a total of six months over two years. I chose to use this antique process to record these fishermen as collodion is sensitive at the violet end of the spectrum, allowing us to peer beneath the skin: these men have worked in the open air their whole lives, beaten by all weathers. After my first three months there, I learned that the fishermen were bringing on the next generation, so focussed my final three months on these recent school leavers, already experienced fishermen.

“Arresting and nostalgic, contemplative and intriguing…Cook’s portraits create their own atmosphere and intrigue. Rooted in place, they reflect its spirit, at once harsh and poetic; the tracings of light from a northern sky on raw metal.” Giles Sutherland, The Times [4 Stars].

This series of work was funded through North Light Arts by Creative Scotland as part of Year of Creative Scotland 2012 and Year of Natural Scotland 2013.

McArthur’s Store was filmed by Jez Curnow and used here with permission.