A few months ago something really cool happened, ShootRewind were hired to shoot for The Fowey Shellfish Company. ShootRewind offers photographic reportage and storytelling to producers and manufacturers, Fowey Shellfish produce some of the finest mussels in the UK.
They’re based in Cornwall which meant heading down the night before. We caught up with the team in a local restaurant and got to know them a bit. Over dinner Will, the manager, gave me a crash course in mussel farming, while I ate their mussels and drank Rattler, (perhaps forgetting that I was going to sea the next day).
The following morning we rose early and headed to the docks to tour the factory and meet the rest of the team. We shot the processing, the packing, and the premises as the guys cleaned, graded, and packed.
After getting some headshots of the team, it was time for a ride in the RIB out to the mussel boat itself.
Before heading down to the jetty, I had a moment’s apprehension. I had a case full of gear, much of which I wouldn’t need, and the prospect of passing it between vessels at sea filled me with brief sense of dread. I transferred a couple of primes and one body to a shoulder bag, and left the case safe on dry land.
As we bounced out to the big boat the wind whipping at my hair and shirt I felt about as special forces as I’m ever likely to feel. (I held on for dear life, wondered whether a shirt would be warm enough, and nearly fell out two or three times).
Fowey Shellfish grow mussels on ropes out at sea. Vertical ropes from buoys drop to the sea floor and demark the perimeter of their area, horizontal ropes are slung between these buoys and it’s from these that the mussel ropes hang.
This means that the mussels are in free flowing water, off the seabed, and away from any runoff from the shore. The mussels invest less in shells that aren’t being battered against rocks by waves, and they don’t have to filter the grit from the sea floor. This is why their shells are thinner and the mussels are bigger, maximising flavour, meat percentage by weight, and there is no grit to catch between your teeth.
The sea was calm, billiard table calm when we made the transfer to the boat and once we were set up the started lifting ropes to inspect the crop.
The ropes have to be bouyed correctly, if they touch the sea floor a whole rope can be lost. (A single starfish could strip the rope bottom to top). Room also has to be made for the growing shellfish, so fry is stripped and re-roped on board before going back into the sea.
The vision of the life at sea, to those that don’t live it is one of romance and drama. I for one am are glad of the strong bearded men of my imagination, clad in sou’westers, who brave a world I don’t understand to bring me the seaborne food I love so much.
This romance is a double edged sword when it comes to photography. I want the company to look advanced, forward-thinking and energised, as they are, rather than backward, conservative and small, while still capitalising on that romantic idea of a life at sea.
I shot with a 50mm, all day, referring to the messenger bag for batteries and cards but not switching out lenses. I wanted a uniform compression across the images, so that they would hang together well, offering a consistency and also unifying the on and offshore locations.
This would have been lovely job to shoot on film and we gave it some thought, but with the with the distances involved, plus and needing to match graded video, it wasn’t practical. I still wanted to reference a colour palette reminiscent of the Cape Cod or Natucket fishing scene though so processed the images with a film emulator.
The guys were welcoming and interested, they were happy to share their genuine enthusiasm for the work and their product. I think we found a balance between embracing the romance and shooting the reality. I left with a sack of mussels, a greater understanding of farming at sea, and a new appreciation for Rattler.
The mussels were shared, photographed, cooked, photographed again, before being eaten in too large a quantity with french bread. They were really, very good.
I’ve included a few more pictures below but you can check out shootrewind.com for more pictures, soon the video, not to mention some of the other stories we’ve done.