A bayman’s life is loaded with photographable moments.
You’re up to see the sunrise most mornings. Sea gulls land on the bow of your boat. The water surrounds you.
For Greenport’s Chris Hamilton, this all became apparent as he worked alongside his father, Captain Bob Hamilton of the Jeremy H.
“I kind of wanted to record my time with my father,” he said of the origins of his popular Instagram page, @northforkfisherman, which he launched in 2016. “With the innovation of cellphones, I always had my cellphone on me, which means I always had a camera.”
What followed for Hamilton was a transformation from a part-time bayman who enjoyed taking photos to an artist.
But the story behind the Instagram page is one of love, loss and familial bonds. And the awareness of what the Hamilton family has been through adds a layer of depth to the images of life captured by Hamilton’s phone and later his camera.
The Jeremy H. is named for Hamilton’s brother, who died in 2010 after a six-year battle with brain cancer. The young dad, who owned a local landscaping company, was just 35 years old.
Chris, who was less than a year younger than Jeremy and in the same graduating class at Greenport High School, went from working alongside his brother to the familiar setting of his father’s boat.
“I knew I had to start spending more time with my dad after losing my brother,” he said. “I knew it was important for him, as it was for me.”
The time spent out on the boat — and the photography that followed — became a way for father and son to reconnect and heal together.
“It also became a celebration of my own heritage and the history of this place where we used to have fishing fleets,” Chris Hamilton said.
The Hamilton family has been fishing Long Island waters for six generations, since long before government regulations began to cripple the industry here. Bob Hamilton, now 70 and showing no desire to give up working anytime soon, is approaching a half-century of making a living on the water. Once an offshoreman who would be away for days at a time, the familiar Peconic Bay serves as his workplace these days.
Chris Hamilton’s photography started with shots of nature, but his lens slowly began capturing the captain going about his day.
“Eventually I sort of eased my dad into it and started taking more of these sort of shots with action in them,” he said. “Shots with the gear coming in or my dad working the net.”
The photographs, with Capt. Bob as a frequent subject, have gained a lot of attention. The vibrant colors, with sharp bursts of orange, are likely a big reason why. And one look at the captain, an old salt with exactly the aesthetic you expect from a fisherman, tells you so much about life on the water.
Hamilton’s Instagram page has nearly 3,000 followers and he’s been invited to show at museums and galleries. He also won a photo contest sponsored by Northforker and WEHM. The winning shot was published on the cover of The Suffolk Times, something his father was proud of.
This summer, Hamilton became a member of the North Fork Art Collective in Greenport. People are buying his work, many of the images shot with just an iPhone and edited with basic filters.
The idea of being an artist and selling his work is something Hamilton is still trying to get comfortable with. But he does want to learn and take the craft more seriously.
He’s also not sure how much time he’ll spend out on the bay once his old man isn’t making his way out there every day. Probably very little, he says.
But no matter where he is in the future, Hamilton will always have the memories and knowledge from this time spent on the bay with his dad: Two men forming a stronger bond by working and healing together.
“At least now I have that experience that maybe one day I’ll pass down to one of my kids or my nephew,” he said. “I’ll also have thousands and thousands of photographs that will last forever.”
This article is part of a series on The Working Waterfront, published in a special edition of Northforker magazine. The video was made possible by Strong’s Marine.