Dominic Nicastro, 64, a father of three and grandfather of five, was a lifelong fisherman when fishing vessels numbered into the hundreds and landed millions of pounds of fish here daily. 

Jay VanDerpool, 47, a father of two, continues to make his living from the sea as a Rockport lobsterman.

Three Giacalone brothers run a seafood business at Fisherman’s Wharf on the Inner Harbor.

These men are among the 154 faces portrayed in 71 photographs featured in the new exhibition”Portraits of a Working Waterfront” at the Cape Ann Museum. The show was designed to illustrate the maritime web of relationships that exist in Gloucester, the nation’s oldest seaport. Generations of Cape Ann families have made their living with jobs connected to the ocean and the aquatic chain of jobs continues to evolve into the 21st century as the fishing industry responds to ever-changing government regulations and the resulting economic fallout. 

The portraits represent the fishermen who work offshore and those who work at the businesses onshore, as well as their wives, children and a host of others in between whose livelihood depends on the fishermen’s success at sea. Although fishing tends to be a male-dominated industry, several women are front and center, including Viking Gustafson of the Gloucester Marine Railways, and Ann Molloy of the family-run Neptune’s Harvest, a fish fertilizer producer.  

The show opens Saturday at the museum, which went beyond its usual parameters to reach out to a segment of the community who may not see themselves aligned with the city’s cultural anchor. 

These portraits by Dedham-based photographer Jim Hooper grew from a suggestion made by his friend Nonie Brady, who had an art studio in Gloucester and a deep love for the town. The resulting special exhibition represents an 18-month effort to capture the spirit of those who work the Cape Ann waterfront. 

Hooper has always been on the lookout for adventure. As a 21-year-old college drop-out, he secured a berth on an oil tanker and went around the globe. Immediately upon disembarking from the tanker, he found work on the 50-foot commercial fishing vessel Kingdom and spent weeks at a time on the Pacific line-fishing for albacore tuna.

Fast forward to a college degree, an early retirement as a successful commercial real estate broker in Boston, and a year-long study of photography at Boston University, and a new career was born.

Hooper, now 63, took great interest in community photography; he was approached about doing a series of portraits of people who helped save and revitalize downtown Providence, R.I.

It was while he was working on the successful Providence Portrait Project that his friend told Hooper he should dive into a photo project based in Gloucester. 

“The words weren’t even out of her mouth and the light bulb clicked in my head,” said Hooper in an interview this week.

Hooper pondered the possibilities, and like so many do today, he went to Google to see what popped up. Among the first hits was a link about the New England Fisheries Management Council and its chairman Rip Cunningham, whom Hooper had known over the years.  

Hooper called Cunningham, and that contact snowballed into a series of calls and meetings with local industry members of the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition. Once they were convinced Hooper was not a fly-by-night photographer, he was able to get down to business. He was provided a second-floor space in a concrete bay on Jodrey State Fish Pier, where he hung an old sail provided by Josh Bevins, Gloucester’s only sailmaker, and set a large wooden spool on the floor, and his work began.

“I really felt it was a privilege for me to do this project. It was a glimpse into a world I never would have known about,” Hooper said. “Some of these guys didn’t speak any English.”

The photographer said he has enormous respect for those who fish the North Atlantic. He recalled a time on the oil tanker traveling from the St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada to South Africa when the crew found themselves in 40-foot seas.

“We were on a 600-foot long tanker and the waves were crashing over the entire ship, so I can’t even imagine someone on a 60-foot fishing vessel in those waters,” he said.

When the full body of his work was complete, it took the local fishing representatives by surprise. 

“We were all speechless. They were better than better,” said John Bell, chairman of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and a former Gloucester mayor. “There was something very personal about them. The group that showed up (to be photographed) is a significant part of the Gloucester waterfront.”

Bell echoed several others in the industry who were somewhat guarded when they first heard Hooper’s idea.

“We’ve seen these folks come and go, those who want to film and photograph the waterfront. But Jim seemed liked a personal guy and none of us had any idea what the outcome would be,” Bell said.

When the question of where to hang the show came up, the group called  Cape Ann Museum director Ronda Faloon and curator Martha Oaks for advice.

“We wanted to see if they had an idea what would be a good venue to display the pictures, and none of us thought the museum would show an interest, but we wanted to consult with them,” recalled Bell. “When they first saw the photos, there was silence. They sort of looked at each other, and I didn’t know if the glance was positive or not. There was a lot of quiet in the room, and I shared some of our ideas for display.”

Oaks said when the museum was first contacted, it was in the midst of a $3.5 million construction project and staff were cautious about getting into anything.

“But when we saw the pictures, we were so taken with the images that we knew we wanted them here,” she said.

The museum saw this exhibition as a way to acknowledge those who make up Gloucester’s working waterfront today.

Jackie Odell, executive director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, said the coalition was excited that the museum found this to be a worthwhile project. 

She explained that the coalition tried to connect the dots to put Hooper in contact with people in the community.

“It was pretty amazing what he did with his Providence project. Through his pictures, he showed a side of that community and the people involved in revitalizing the city of Providence and we thought it was a great project for the City of Gloucester,” she said. “We were all impressed with his past work and thought this would be a great tribute to our community.”

Odell noted that the portraits reveal the human side of the industry.

“The Northeast Seafood Coalition works closely with those whose livelihoods are connected to the working waterfront. The waterfront is more than a place of work for these individuals — it is their passion, their soul, and their heritage. The portraits exhibit is a celebration of the people — and a way of life,” Odell said. “It is an opportunity for the public to learn about the human element — the individuals working to support the Gloucester fishing community.”

She applauded Hooper for taking the contemporary present-day view of who these people are and their connection to the waterfront.

“This is their story that needed to be told in an artistic perspective,” she said. “These are the people who have dedicated themselves to the waterfront and the fishing industry. This is the real deal. This is what it means to support locally caught fish, to support your local fishing industry.”

In an exhibition statement, Oaks noted “Gloucester’s waterfront is steadily being transfigured as the industry downsizes. For the time being, a fishing industry continues to exist here on Cape Ann, remaining a central component of many people’s lives and an important part of our cultural identity.” 

Hooper donated the portraits to the museum’s permanent collection, and the museum was eager to accept the gift.

“The Cape Ann Museum’s acquisition of Jim Hooper’s photographs provides us with a snapshot of New England’s fisheries at the beginning of the 21st century and represents an important and timely addition to the museum’s archives. The collection assures us that the current chapter in the long and complex history of the New England’s fisheries does not go unrecorded — or uncelebrated,” wrote Oaks in the statement.

The project and exhibit are possible due to the help of the Northeast Seafood Coalition and the Gloucester Fishing Community Preservation Fund, and particular acknowledgement was given to Nick Brancaleone, Vito Giacalone, Odell, Bell, and Christine Sherman, who served as project coordinator.

Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-675-2706, or via email at gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

If you go

What and who: “Portraits of a Working Waterfront: Photographs by Jim Hooper”

When: Free public opening reception on Saturday, Oct. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m.  (Free admission to museum all day.) The show runs through Feb. 1, 2015.

Where: Cape Ann Museum, 27 Pleasant St. in Gloucester.

How much: Free on Saturday, Oct. 11; after that regular museum admission fee of $10 applies.

Wait, there’s more: A series of educational and outreach programs will be held in conjunction with the exhibit:

• Artist Talk with Jim Hooper on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014 and Saturday, Jan. 10 at 2 p.m.

• Panel Discussion about Gloucester’s working waterfront on Saturday, Jan. 24 at 2 p.m.

• “Sounds of the Working Waterfront” – Original composition by Robert Bradshaw on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

For more information, visit www.capeannmuseum.org, or call 978-283-0455.

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