Local Photographer Profiling the Faces of the Fishery

After 40 years in Alberta’s oil and gas industry, Ian Proctor has taken up photographing the faces of the lobster industry in his new home of Nova Scotia.

Proctor’s journey began in 1975 after he graduated high school in Montreal. Like many at that age, he had a desire to get out and see the world. His dad, a McGill graduate, allowed him to travel across Canada on the condition that once he had gotten the travel bug out of his system, he would return to Montreal to follow in his educational footsteps.

Photos by Ian Proctor

Proctor, to his benefit, wasn’t able to make good on that promise. While driving to British Columbia, his car broke down in Calgary, Alberta.

“I just stayed in Calgary,” said Proctor.

Taking advantage of a booming job market, Proctor joined the workforce not long after winding up in Calgary. He began taking courses at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to become a drilling technologist, eventually working his way up to the role of senior superintendent, where he spent the majority of his 42-year oil and gas career.

Before landing in his career path, Proctor took to photography during his senior year of high school. His best friend, looking for help making the high school yearbook, gave him a camera and eight rolls of film.

“Eric showed me how to use the camera, and that’s basically where it started. I became more of a portrait photographer by default, and it kind of just grew from there. Since that day, I never went a stretch without having a camera,” said Proctor.

Around 2006, Proctor realized he wanted to make photography a full-time career. While still working in the energy sector, he set up a photography business on the side until his retirement in May 2019. In the run-up to his retirement, Proctor and his wife began to set their sights on a new locale for him to practice photography full-time.

“I lived in Saint John, New Brunswick when I was very young and we used to holiday in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia. I started doing workshops with some other photographers [in Nova Scotia] in 2017–2018 and just fell in love with it all over again,” said Proctor.

Proctor and his wife, who transitioned from oil and gas into interior design, moved to Seabright, Nova Scotia in 2020. While he had to wait out COVID-19 lockdowns, he hit the ground running doing family photography as soon as he was able.

By late 2021, a photography group that Proctor participated in issued a challenge to their members to shake things up and work on a type of photography that is foreign to them. For Proctor, this was wildlife photography. After borrowing a long lens suiting that type of photography, he set out to find some wildlife and stumbled on an entirely different project.

“I was trying to focus in on these little rodents running around the backyard and the camera misfocused on one of the lobster boats that I’d seen before from the house, but with the size of the lens I was using, it just blew me away. I was right inside the wheelhouse of the boat all of a sudden,” said Proctor.

After that experience, Proctor thought there may be more to capture from the lobster harvesters of St. Margarets Bay, and his photographer friends agreed. The only problem was that he didn’t know where any of them docked. As fate would have it, Proctor managed to find them while getting his tires changed at a nearby garage.

“As I do always, I took my camera gear with me because they were going to be an hour putting the tires on. I was going to go for a walk, and I knew there was a little cove there. I walked around the corner, and there were four of the six boats I had been watching in front of the house,” said Proctor.

From here, he was introduced to Kevin Mitchell, a local fisherman who introduced him to the local fishing community. Since then, Proctor has been working on a personal project titled “Faces of the Fishery,” a series of black and white portraits and action shots that capture the work life of the harvesters in St. Margarets Bay. In the past three years, Proctor has taken over 15,000 images of the fish harvesters in his area.

“I’ve shot a lot of the boats the same way trying to get the best image; trying to get the best shot of the traps breaking surface, of them dropping their gear off the side,” said Proctor. “If I’m chasing them along the shoreline, I’ve only got a certain window of time. They may only have five or six sets that I can visually see or get close to, so I spend a lot of time chasing the same boats in the same places, but I’m still trying to get the best shot I can from that process.”

The end goal for these images is two-fold. First, he is looking to combine The Faces of the Fishery project with a previous project he worked on during his time in Western Canada titled “Rig Life” into a photography book. Secondly, Proctor is hoping to showcase the work he has done on Faces of the Fishery in an art gallery by the summer after getting out for one more fishing season with the harvesters who he has come to consider friends over the last three years.

“When I started this, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, what does a flatlander from Alberta know about being on a lobster boat in Nova Scotia? But my education has been tremendous. I love being on the water and I love being out there with them,” said Proctor. “These people are good people and they work hard, and that’s all I want to get across.”

More of Ian Proctor’s work can be found at www.ianproctor.ca.

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