I worked as a cull boy in the summers for my father who kept an old wooden clam boat in Centerport Harbor on Long Island’s North Shore only thirty miles from Manhattan. Most mornings we would leave at daybreak and drive the twenty minutes to the beach. My job was to bale the water from the boat and to sort the clams into three sizes that my father dug from the mud with a long rake. It was hard work for him and tedious for me. Not once did I think I was lucky to be on the water. It was my first introduction to work.
Fifty years later it is still work for the remaining men that work the bays and harbors of Long Island’s North Shore. No work, no pay. Fiercely independent today’s baymen still work in ways similar to my father—men in small boats alone or in pairs to harvesting what the bays have to offer. There were no oysters in my father’s day and whelks were thrown back as refuse. Both are fished now along with clams and lobsters. The catch has diminished and the number of baymen has declined significantly as well. Baymen is a long term series documenting these men, their work, and their surroundings.
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Based in New York, Michael Johnson specializes in portrait and documentary photography. He recently earned his master’s degree in digital photography from New York’s School of Visual Arts and has exhibited his work in galleries throughout the country. Johnson’s diverse background has ranged from magazine editing and creative writing to curriculum development and large-scale project management, experience that allows him to bring a unique skill set and sensibility to his work.
All images ©Michael Johnson