Photographer Corey Arnold regularly leaves his Portland home and hops aboard commercial fishing boats bound for icy northern waters. The photos he brings back capture life on the seas, as crew members encounter the capriciousness of nature, complete with gales, monster waves and bizarre creatures dredged up from the deep. Earlier this year, with funding from the Pew Foundation and a sustainable-fishing organization called Ocean 2012, Arnold set off on a series of expeditions off the shores of nine European countries. With a super-high-end digital camera he shot a whopping 35,000 exposures, from which he culled 22 prints for Fish-Work Europe. The fruits of using such a stellar camera—the best Arnold has ever worked with—are evident in the finished prints, which are strikingly more nuanced and vibrant than in any of his previous shows. Some are so sharp and high-contrast, they appear almost 3-D.
Within the series are many of Arnold’s signature motifs: waves so wide and jagged, they look like mountains (The North Sea, Netherlands); crew members posing with fearsome sea creatures with glistening, gaping mouths (Willy and the Monkfish, North Sea, Scotland); and ravishing still lifes such as Beamer Catch, North Sea, Netherlands. That photo, with its spiny, big-lipped pink and brown fish lying on deck, soon to die in holding bins, is a visual orgy of detail: bubbles and blood, crabs and starfish, a Monet-like pastel tableau of gorgeous, impending doom. This hits upon the Freudian undertones in Arnold’s best work. The artist has a knack for transmuting photojournalism into metaphor. In Shark Display, Vigo, Spain, two crew members hoist a dead shark aloft in a graceful but fearsome S-curve: a trophy for humans’ increasingly worrisome pillaging of the world’s oceans. A symbolically loaded thresher shark makes an appearance in Positive Bycatch, Le Guilvinec, Bretagne, France, its lifeless, bloodied body hauled on a forklift to a fish auction, destined, perhaps, for a bowl of sharkfin soup. In this clinical environment, with its cold, fluorescent lighting, the shark might as well be a human body in a morgue, bound for an organ-harvesting facility. Who is the predator here and who the prey? The shark and the forklift operator are both cogs in a larger machine. Animal, man, cadaver, commerce—we are all somewhere along the continuum, Arnold seems to imply; it’s only a slight difference in the timing.
GO: Corey Arnold’s Fish-Work Europe at Charles A. Hartman, 134 NW 8th Ave., 287-3886. Show closes Jan. 15.