How a caraquet woman seized the opportunity to photograph her life

Julie D'Amour-Léger takes a selfie on a shrimp boat.  Her love of photography began at the age of 12 when she got her first 35mm camera.  (Julie D'Amour-Léger - photo credit)

Julie D’Amour-Léger takes a selfie on a shrimp boat. Her love of photography began at the age of 12 when she got her first 35mm camera. (Julie D’Amour-Léger – photo credit)

Three years, 10,000 photos, and a deep respect for the fish on her plate: this is what Julie D’Amour-Léger, a photographer based in northeast New Brunswick, took home after exploring an important industry in her area had explored – the fishing industry.

D’Amour-Léger is in Fredericton until Saturday, working as an artist-in-residence at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery with a view to writing her experience into a book. And unlike during her research, this residency is on land.

During her time on the water, Caraquet native D’Amour-Léger often told fishermen that she was artist-in-residence on their boats.

She started the project by contacting fishermen and asking if she could join them on their boats. While most were happy she came along, she said there has been a lot of waiting for good conditions over the years.

She began tailing smelt fishermen in 2020 as they pulled their nets through a hole in the ice.

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

After her first year braving the elements on land, sea and ice, she was hooked. She wanted to explore the different fisheries and photograph each one, even if it meant overcoming her usual seasickness.

But it was worth it.

“I wanted to take pictures of people just doing what they do, you know, as themselves,” D’Amour-Léger said. “The environment, the colors of their suits, all the equipment – it’s incredible. They are all different.”

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

She’s caught crab, lobster, tuna, smelt, scallops, herring, halibut, eel, shrimp and mackerel – each with their own schedule and requirements. She also photographed oyster farming and digging for mussels on or near the shore.

Going shrimp fishing, she spent seven days on a boat while the crew embarked on a 35-hour trip from Caraquet to Louisbourg, NS

When they arrived, she said the crew lifted the trawls, bagged the shrimp and took them to a below-deck freezer, which worked five hours at a time. They would sleep for a few hours and then get up to work for another five.

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

“They never sleep for more than two hours at a time,” D’Amour-Léger recalls.

But she said every trip is different. Out on a shrimp boat in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, she said the crew worked all day from sunrise to sunset and slept at night.

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

D’Amour-Léger’s love of photography began at the age of 12 when she got her first 35mm camera. She had two friends with dark rooms at home, so she had the opportunity to develop her own photos early on. This led her to study fine arts at the University of Moncton and then at Concordia University in Montreal.

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

She switched to digital photography 20 years ago, she said, which allowed her to return to New Brunswick in 2007.

“A big city has many resources, but when I moved to Caraquet, all I needed to work was my camera and computer,” she said.

One of D’Amour-Léger’s greatest learnings from her adventures is the dedication of the people in the fishing industry to working long hours and hard work.

Julie D'Amour-Léger

Julie D’Amour-Léger

Since her return, she has narrowed her favorite photos from 10,000 to around 120 in preparation for an exhibition at the Galerie d’art Bernard-Jean in Caraquet in November.

“I think the strength of this project is that I’m looking at many types of fishing from my own perspective as a photographer,” said D’Amour-Léger.

“It’s a way of life and I wanted to see all of that … They were so natural, they didn’t look at me, they just did what they did and it was nice to see.”


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