A FISHERMAN works with his catch in Harpswell.

A FISHERMAN works with his catch in Harpswell.

HARPSWELL

Photographer and writer Kelli Park of Harpswell has — through her pictures and writing — begun documenting the lives of those who live and work on the town’s waterfront.

Park has been shooting photos since she was 10. Growing up in an Army family, she moved frequently, living in disparate places such as Maryland, Texas and Alaska, a habit she continued until settling in the southern Midcoast six years ago.

She now works as the Adult Education Coordinator at Regional School Unit 5, but in her spare time can be found with her camera, prowling the wharfs of Harpswell in an ongoing attempt to capture the lives of the local fishing community in words and images. Her ongoing project, “Due North,” can be experienced at kellipark.com.

KELLI PARK is documenting people who live and work on Harpswell’s waterfront, through photos and their stories.

KELLI PARK is documenting people who live and work on Harpswell’s waterfront, through photos and their stories.

Park recently spoke about the importance of Harpswell’s fishing culture, community connections and the challenges of photographing working lobstermen on a moving boat.

The Times Record: Would you please define what “Due North” is?

ANN FLANNERY, in her Cundy’s Harbor shop, is leading a skiff building class with Harpswell youth.

ANN FLANNERY, in her Cundy’s Harbor shop, is leading a skiff building class with Harpswell youth.

Kelli Park: It’s a documentary project that includes photography, oral history and interviews with people who are closely tied to the ocean. There are stories or articles that I will be developing around themes that have emerged from each oral history and interview that I do.

A BOY, a boat and a lobster trap along the shores of Harpswell.

A BOY, a boat and a lobster trap along the shores of Harpswell.

Every interaction that I have I’ve learned something new. I’m picking up on building on different themes I’m developing into narratives and stories. It’s a constant work in progress.

I record everything (my subjects) say and I transcribe it, and pick out the parts I like to use in a story that helps me develop the themes. There’s also the photography part of it. The purpose of the project is a way for me to have something cohesive that fits in with all of my different interests and skill sets and allows me to pursue my creativity.

One of the goals is to increase awareness of the culture or subculture — it’s a really cool way of living, but I don’t think a lot of people necessarily realize that. For example, there’s this boat-building workshop for kids on Sundays (in Harpswell). I interviewed the woman who’s running it and I’ve been taking pictures every week, documenting the project. She’s teaching kids how to build a wooden skiff. It’s interesting to help develop these elements of community and preserve the culture of the working waterfront that could otherwise be considered a lost art.

TR: What is it about this culture that drew you to it?

KP: It’s the water — being near the water, having the element of the water present and surrounding this community. I think the water has a presence. It comes naturally to me to want to spend my time around people who want to live near the water and make a living off of it, and integrated it into their daily lives and their culture, their world.

Because I love the ocean, it leads to opportunities to talk to these fishermen, and these people who have built their lives around the water. You have this community’s culture.

TR: Whether you’re using text or photographs, it comes down to the fact that you’re storytelling. What compels you to be a storyteller?

KP: I’ve moved around a lot and had lots of different experiences. It’s the most important thing, to talk to locals when you’re traveling — that’s the best thing you can do if you want an authentic experience and you want to find out the true character or a place.

The other part of this — there’s a lot of landscape photography in Maine, which makes sense, but there’s not a lot of documentary photography being done in Maine. There’s so much more than just the land. There’s the stories of the people and the culture — how someone can be from a sixth generation fishing family? How do they make their life in this way?

There’s all these cool stories and experiences you don’t hear about unless you take the time to talk to people and document their experiences.

The landscapes are beautiful, but there’s so much more to it than that. The human element is especially interesting to me — it adds a whole other dimension. Everyone has a different experience. You can interview two fishermen, and they’ll say two completely different things or have two completely different lives. Everybody craves connection — it’s human nature — to you surroundings, people, your community.

TR: New Englanders, especially Mainers and fishermen, have a reputation for being a little stand offish. What do you do to break through that barrier?

KP: (Laughs.) I already knew a lot of people in the area, in Cundy’s Harbor, for a few years and I know a lot of the families. … But mostly I just go up and talk to people. I go to all the different wharfs and all the different harbors. I literally did this for two months, straight — all weekend, every weekend, because I have a day job, too. I would hang around and just talk. Usually it goes well, I’ve only had a few people decline to participate — business owners and people who are a little more private. Ninety percent of the people I talked to have been totally open and think that it’s a cool project.

It’s very much play-it-by-ear. You can’t make plans because of the weather.

TR: You spent some time documenting a lobstering crew. That’s rough work. Was it difficult capturing some of these moments out on the water, trying to get the shots?

KP: It’s definitely difficult. Landscape photography is completely different from something like this. The boat is moving on the water and the guys are moving super fast. My mind was blown with how fast they move. There’s not a lot of space on the boat. They have their work space, but it’s not like you can hang out — you’re going to get in their way. The space is very restrictive and your angles are restricted. I’ve only been out lobstering once because winter is a little bit tricky. It was cold that day, the conditions are not relaxing by any means. Just trying to get quality photos when everything is changing. It makes it interesting, which is part of the appeal. I’m excited to go out again.

TR: What have you found to be the most surprising part of this project?

KP: Just how naturally things have developed. I’m still learning as I go, and I still don’t have a plan. It’s something that’s developing organically. This is it. This is my project. It just fits me.

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