Photographer Maggie Shannon has been photographing The Monster Shark Tournament, held in Martha’s Vineyard, for a few years. The event, which recently ended a 20-year run in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, was drawing increasingly negative responses from community far and wide as well as from The Humane Society of the U.S. because of the shark carcasses and crowds the event was attracting. According to Bloomberg News, the event would draw “drunken revelers, bar brawls, and even bodies passed out on the sidewalks” from too much alcohol and excess “shark mania.” This scene endured a couple of decades of complete revelry before the community of Oak Bluff decided to put in place referendums that would replace the shark killings with catch-and-release guidelines. Prior, awards of $50,000 were given out to the boat with the heaviest shark haul after two days. The tournament’s founder, who has since passed, decided to move the tournament to Newport, Rhode Island, where it now takes place every July and is hosted by the Boston Big Game Fishing Club. Although the tournament now celebrates catch and release, the teams are allowed to bring in one shark a day that meets a list of very restrictive requirements. The tournament continues to be controversial.
Shannon began shadowing the shark tournament participants while finishing up her MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The photos shown in Swamp Yankee and Swamp Yankee II include shots from the last year the tournament was held on Martha’s Vineyard and allowed for the killing of sharks, before the guidelines were changed to catch and release. The photos of the weigh-in and the sharks hauled in are particularly unsettling, but will hopefully be the last to depict sharks in this manner at this seemingly outdated event.
Shannon’s images offer a glimpse into life on a boat between friends and fisherman in brightly lit portraits of the event’s participants intermixed with similarly brightly lit images of the sharks in question – hanging, hooked, or halved. The use of flash adds a clinical and slightly scientific element to the work, but the work done aboard the boat on this mission feels utterly rugged. Shannon’s view of man, fish, and water, manages to highlight the freedom of the wide open sea, the details of the expedition, and the mysterious unknown that lies just below the water’s surface, despite the tragic ending some of these sharks found back on land.
All images © Maggie Shannon
via The New Yorker