Connections with the sea

Alaska State Museum photography exhibit documents lives of coastal Alaskans

Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2005

Three years ago, Homer fisherman Alan Parks began interviewing commercial fishermen and subsistence harvesters about their connection with the sea, on behalf of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. He discovered that even the broadest question would coerce an elaborate response.

Teresa Moses, a village elder in Toksook Bay, was one of the most verbose.

"I asked her a pretty generic question really, 'How are you connected to the sea?'" Moses said. "She began to answer, and she didn't stop for 15 minutes."

Other events

As part of "Ocean Home," the Alaska State Museum will host a marine science lecture and film series from 1-2:30 p.m. Saturdays, March 12-April 9. The schedule is:

March 12: Talk - "Essential Film Habitat in Nearshore Waters," Scott Johnson; and "Prey Availability Near Two Sea Lion Haulouts," John Thedinga, both from Auke Bay Lab.

March 19: Film - "Empty Oceans, Empty Nets" (57 mins.)

March 26: Film - "Net Loss: The Storm Over Salmon Farming" (52 mins.)

April 2: Talk - "Offshore Aquaculture: The Federal Government's Push to Allow Fish Farming in Federal Waters," Paula Terrel, AMCC.

April 9: Talk - "Exploring Corals and Other Seafloor Habitats of the Aleutians," Dr. Bob Stone, Auke Bay Lab.

From Toksook Bay to Petersburg, Parks found himself engaged in hours of conversation. The result is "Ocean Home," a series of photographs that documents the lives of coastal Alaskans. The exhibit opened Friday, March 4, at the Alaska State Museum, and runs through April 16.

Parks, a staff member with the AMCC, has been a commercial fisherman for 40 years and a documentary photographer for two decades. He worked on "Ocean Home" for a year and a half, as he was crisscrossing the state working on other projects for AMCC.

"Everybody who agreed to be interviewed had a unique way of communicating, and one of the things they all had in common is their passion about the ocean," he said. "I think what you'll see is a vision of the future that promotes and accepts change, and also is concerned about sustainability and the economic system."

"Ocean Home" is online at Homer writer Wendy Erd, a longtime commercial fisherman who spent 12 years set-netting in Bristol Bay, wrote the accompanying essays.

The exhibit has been to Homer, Anchorage, the Museum of the Aleutians in Unalaska, the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak and the Folklife Festival in Seattle. Smaller versions have visited Petersburg and Port Graham. After Juneau, the exhibit will continue to the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center in Haines and the Sealife Center in Seward.

Parks had worked on two major oral history projects before. In 1990, he put together "Voices and Images of a Community," a profile of Kachemak Bay. Erd also worked on that. In 1997, Parks worked on "The Lost and the Found," interviewing people who had been involved in catastrophic marine accidents. That's on permanent exhibit at the Pratt Museum in Homer, or online at

"I interviewed a diverse amount of people," Parks said of his new exhibit. "Village elders in Toksook Bay, young people in Petersburg and active fishermen in Kodiak. I tried to represent the spectrum of the fishing industry, and people who rely on the ocean for a way of life."

"The young people I interviewed are struggling to figure out how they're going to be around, and what role they're going to be playing in the future," he said. "They see so much change, and I think that's another thing that's important to say."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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