ABOUT THE ARTIST
Jeff Dworsky, who took the photos in this story, moved to Stonington, Maine, in 1973 when he was 17 years old. The place was everything his childhood home wasn’t: rural, working-class, gritty. He fit in more than he ever had in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his mother was a professor at Harvard University.
At the time, Stonington was a separate world. The single bridge to Deer Isle, where the town is located, didn’t see much traffic. Dworsky, who dropped out of school at
14, was an outsider. But he made friends quickly and gained the trust of many of the town’s roughly 900 residents. They were mostly fishermen, who lobstered, crabbed, scalloped, shrimped and fished for halibut and herring in the cold Atlantic. Fishing had always been the business in Stonington, beginning thousands of years ago with the Abenaki people. The town’s granite quarry boom at the turn of the 20th century came and went, but fishing remained.
In 1989, having lived in Stonington for more than a decade, Dworsky picked up his Leica camera loaded with Kodachrome 64 slide film and started photographing through a wide-angle lens the place he held dear. He wanted to document a way of life that he feared was vanishing with the real estate boom of the 1980s, which brought wealthy outsiders to the island. “I saw the Stonington I loved disappearing,” he told me when we met in Belfast, Maine, this past fall.
Property values were increasing, footpaths through backyards were being cut off, and communal wells were disappearing. Suddenly there were areas designated “working waterfront.” What does that even mean? Dworsky thought. It all used to be working waterfront.
Dworsky, who fished for 40 years and owned what he says was the slowest boat in town, photographed people whose trust he had gained over time. “The closer you get, the more you disappear,” he says. He knows the name of every person in his collection of 1,500-plus slides, now housed at Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport. None of his images was staged.
Now 63, Dworsky has an unkempt beard and bushy eyebrows that dance with his smile. He’d always been drawn to photography but never studied it formally. He remembers flipping through the pages of
National Geographic as a young man, looking for insights into fill flash, depth of field and other techniques.
Dworsky’s images, taken between 1989 and 1993, captured a world where multiple generations of fishermen earned a living by going to sea in small boats, in all seasons and all weather. It was a world where community wasn’t a buzzword or a platitude, but the very fabric of life.
Mcguffie and his grandson head out on a glassy morning to pull traps. The epitome of independence, the old Yankee hunted and farmed, cut wood to heat his house and pulled a living from the sea.
Before summer people began buying up the shorefront, fishing families lived as close to the sea as possible.