The Essence of Montauk in Photos

Wendi Blair has organized her photographs to create a series of collages depicting fishermen in action, their gear, dock dogs, salt-stained hauling nets, basket loads of just-caught fish, and vessels belonging to a corporate group of commercial fishermen
Wendi Blair is showing her photographs in “A Tribute to Fishermen,” an exhibition at the Montauk Library this month. Janis Hewitt

   Wendi Blair holds many jobs, but her favorite is that of photographer. For the last year, in rain, snow, wind, and hail, she has iced up and packed out fish for shipping from the dock at Inlet Seafood in Montauk.
    She has the biceps to prove it, but she also has enough photographs from her experience to stage a monthlong exhibit, “A Tribute to Fishermen,” at the Montauk Library. It began with an opening reception on Sunday and is open to visitors during the library’s regular business hours though the end of the month.
    From her tiny apartment on East Lake Drive overlooking Lake Montauk, she has organized her photographs to create a series of collages depicting fishermen in action, their gear, dock dogs, salt-stained hauling nets, basket loads of just-caught fish, and vessels belonging to a corporate group of commercial fishermen who own the pack-out marina and Inlet Seafood restaurant on the same property.
    She started working on the project in February. Each collage is framed in weathered beach fencing, some adorned with seashells and twigs of driftwood. Monofilament fishing wire is attached to each frame for hanging the collection from the cool, white walls of the library’s lower level.
    The photographer said she hopes she has caught in images what Montauk is all about. “Fishing is a lifestyle in Montauk. It’s not some passing trend that flows out of town with the tides. This is one of the many reasons I wanted to present this tribute, because of the passion and commitment that people who fish here have, and that to me is a highly regarded and respected profession,” she said.
    Ms. Blair has fished and taken pictures her whole life. Her grandfather would take her fishing at other areas on Long Island, and he always wore a collared shirt and tie for their outings. Her father bought her a camera when she was 4 years old. “I’ve literally been shooting for 45 years,” she said, smiling at the thought. “I like nautical. I grew up on the water and have always lived near the water. There’s just something about the salt air.”
    Packing out fish is hard work that entails lining a thick cardboard box with ice, packing the fish into it, and then covering them with more ice before sealing the box to be shipped. The brown boxes are a common sight throughout the harbor area. She said the job was tedious, physical, repetitive, and grueling. “But I never got sick of it; it was so challenging,” she said.
    When Ms. Blair worked dockside last winter she was the only woman around the boats. “All the guys, every single one of them, encouraged me and treated me like an equal,” she said. They also gave her some tips on staying warm on the coldest of days. “It’s all in the layers. It was cold but you do learn how to dress for it.”
    Some days her job required driving to the Hunts Point Fish Market in the Bronx to deliver oysters and pick up mussels, always with her camera beside her. She didn’t mind the journey, short as it was, because that’s another part of her life, traveling the world. She has already visited 100 cities in 15 counries and has a collection of over 30,000 images stockpiled. She photographs weddings, family portraits, and outdoor functions and makes greeting cards. She is on the Web at wendiwithaneye.com.
    The exhibit is the fourth that Ms. Blair will have had at the library. She is hoping this one will catch someone’s eye, possibly a restaurant owner who would like to decorate the walls of an establishment with authentic scenes from the no-longer-sleepy little fishing village.
    “I hope someone sees it and says, ‘Wow, this is Montauk. This is the essence of what this place is all about,’ ” she said.