Writer/Photographer Jana M. Suchy
(excerpts from "Alaska Fishing Gold Rush of the 1980s" © Jana M. Suchy 2015)
Long ago and far away there was no grand plan to document an era; it was just life. North to Alaska, 1981, Jana found Sitka on an island in Southeast and, like so many others from somewhere else, pounded the docks looking to crew-on, spring of ’83. Curious about the mysteries of the ocean and its fishing boats so foreign to Wisconsin’s freshwater and flatland, she wondered what happened out there once a boat untied from the dock and headed out to sea.
Soon swept up in the rough-and-ready realm of fishing for a living in the commercial fishing fleet, she worked hard, saw some impressive country, grabbed a camera to catch snatches of the amazing life and things seen while working and living on the ocean.
Started writing and taking pictures of daily life covering fishing for fishermen published in the fish papers of the day—what was going on in the fleet, on the docks, out on boats, who said what. A few more years and she left Alaska to find summertime and greater professional opportunity. Fast-forward 30-some years and two coffee-table photobooks were borne of discovering these lost chronicles, one of general interest and color photography, the other told a gripping tale of a fishing industry in crisis, of people's lives ripped apart. No one else had this detailed account, nobody this record of chronology.
A big 2015 photo exhibit in Sitka represented coming home as it is home in her heart, coming back full circle to the island town and fishing fleet which formed the defining experience of her life and informed the rest of it.
No grand plan—right place, right time, asked questions, paid attention, took pictures. Everyday life captured some 35 years ago, just life marinating in time long enough to become history—a unique and fleeting era of a bygone time.
Today, having Sitka back in her life and reconnecting with old friends and fishfolks bring her great joy. After a lifetime in the northern tier of the U.S. she now lives in Tucson, Arizona, where warm sun greets her most every day. And where COVID lockdown 2020 gave her the golden opportunity to write the memoir of these Alaska years, that she’s wanted to write since a fishing friend was lost to the sea back in 1983.