- Associated Press - Saturday, August 16, 2014

MILFORD, Conn. (AP) - Carlyne Labrecque’s photography exhibit of the shell fishermen who unload their catch each day at the harbor dock magically captures the back-breaking work and perseverance of crews who go out in all kinds of weather conditions.

But the beautifully executed project on display at Lisman Landing goes deeper than any clam and oyster.

In photographing the shell fishermen, Labrecque gained such respect for the work the men do and for each individual, as she learned more about their lives on and off the boat, that she has become a “grandmother,” of sorts, as she describes it.

The photographs are done, but each day Labrecque greets the shell fishermen as they dock to meet a refrigerator truck, unloading bags of sorted shellfish, mostly clams, brigade style.

She waves as they come in - “Hi Sweetie” - and once they arrive, asks how their day went. Sometimes there’s a hug. On Halloween she brings them plastic pumpkins filled with candy, and other gifts and goodies for Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. She’s even there to lend a caring ear if something in life is troubling them.

“I’m there for them when they come back,” she said. “I love them all. I can tell if something’s wrong. I’m a wise old bird.”

Stacie Salce, executive director of G & B Shellfish out of Stratford, which owns many of the boats, said Labrecque is “an amazing lady.”

“Unloading they are pulling their last bit of energy out. But she always gets them smiling,” Salce said. “It’s really special.”

Labrecque, a semi-retired and longtime educator, as well as a mother of three and grandmother of five, began taking photographs years ago when somebody gave her a camera. She’s had other exhibits through the years and the idea for this one came up when she began spending a lot of time at Milford Harbor, near where she grew up, because she found it offered her “peace, tranquility, comfort.”

She would see the shell fishermen come in and out in all kinds of weather and wondered, “How many people realize what the fellows on these boats do?”

She wondered, when people are ordering seafood in restaurants, “Do they have any idea what it takes to get it from the ocean to the table?”

So she decided to show it through her lens.

“I believe in serendipity. Anything that’s unplanned, I’m there,” she said.

Labrecque has captured the day’s catch and the shell fishermen from every angle. The exhibit of her beautifully framed images is called “Laudamus, In Praise of Milford Harbor.” She said it is dedicated to “the harbor, Lisman Landing and to the captains and crews of the commercial working boats.” She has 37 photographs in the exhibit and more at home.

Although she’ll sell reprints, the originals are not for sale because this is too close to her heart.

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