Old men and the sea: an essay in pictures and words

by | Jul 16, 2020 | Photography, Seafaring

Old sailors and old fishermen always fascinate me. The former are often referred to as “sea dogs” or lobos de mar in Spanish. Sailor or fisherman, the appellation is entirely appropriate. These men are hardy spirits who cut their teeth on boats and spent many years at sea. They can tell if a storm is coming just by looking at the clouds, checking the wind direction, and feeling the air. They know the sea as a man knows the contours of his lover’s body. Past the prime of their lives, they still hear the siren call of the ocean. Their weathered faces are like old books filled with tales of adventures and mishaps, of loves won and loves lost. They have what I would call “character”.

The Skipper on the Oyster Barge, Mobile Bay. Location: Bayou La Batre, Alabama, 1911
Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine (Amercian, 1874-1940)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Old sailor, 2008
Photo by Groovenick (David Guralnick) via Flickr
Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

‘To see! to see! — this is the craving of the sailor, as of the rest of blind humanity. To have his path made clear for him is the aspiration of every human being in our beclouded and tempestuous existence.’ 

— Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea

Niendorf fishermen at the beginning of the 20th century, about 1920
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Captain Edward John Smith of the RMS Titanic
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

‘What manner of man would still be working at sea in the twilight of his years? He would have to be tough, physically and emotionally, and be free from dementia. He would have to genuinely love the sea and the nautical life. Seafaring would have to be in his blood.’

— Barista Uno, Reflections on old salts and a 99-year-old photograph

John Stocks and Jake Brunton two fishermen Cullercoats, circa 1930
Photographer unknown
Courtesy of Newcastle Libraries, UK

Dutch Sea Captain, between circa 1948 and circa 1955
Photo by George Rodger (British, 1908–1995)
Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

‘Work almost always has a double aspect: it is a bondage, a wearisome drudgery; but it is also a source of interest, a steadying element, a factor that helps to integrate the worker with society. Retirement may be looked upon either as a prolonged holiday or as a rejection, a being thrown on to the scrap-heap.’

— Simone de Beauvoir, The Coming of Age

~ Barista Uno

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