The Billingsgate Fish Market is the largest inland fish market in the UK, and has become a frequent landscape for my photography since I was invited to document artist Pat Wingshan Wong’s community project Barter Archive. With the fish market’s lovely community, it’s sad to learn about their relocation plan. In the next five years, due to the rapid city development at Canary Wharf, the City of London Corporation will move the market to Dagenham, an industrial suburb.
As an MA photography student at RCA, I started my early exploration of individual and communal identity through previous projects. Through immersing myself in the market, I can feel the strong community bonding of the fishmongers; they are like a big family. I use my camera to capture every decisive moment. Sometimes I spent an entire roll of film to capture their portrait. After Pat finished the conversation with the fishmongers, I captured their comfortable gestures and faces and tried to restore the truth.
Photographers such as Gregory Halpern have unique insights and styles of community shooting. His works ‘ZZYZX’, shot in California, exploits the golden state’s unique light to create mysterious, surreal images with documentation. The work inspires and triggers my intention of every photo shooting. I try to use the lens to transform the characters and landscape to rebuild the entire community’s feeling. By emphasising the emotional touch throughout the shooting, I focused on capturing every subtle movement and facial expression of the fishmongers.
It’s challenging to shoot the fish market as the light changes rapidly. Many fishmongers are very helpful and always let me take photos with their poses. The process of photographing build-up from the mutual trust and negotiation; the whole experience makes the project different. I hope to use the lens to preserve their collective memory and rebuild the fish market’s feeling by my every decision making.
Barter Archive is a community-led archive constructed by artist Pat Wingshan Wong in collaboration with the fishmongers at the Billingsgate Fish Market at Canary Wharf, London. The archive engages with the idea of barter physically and symbolically. It includes memorable objects ‘bartered’ by the artist using her observational drawings of the happenings in the space, as well as videos that documents stories and memories of the people. It preserves the collective memory of the Billingsgate community, and challenges the domination of capitalism, highlighting and questioning the ways value is assigned through culture and society.