At the heart of Maggie Shannon’s self-published book Swamp Yankee, out today, is the contrast between the sunny, calm disposition of the shark fishermen she follows on their gleaming white boat, and the brutality of their pursuit. Shot over two years at the Monster Shark Tournament, formerly held in Shannon’s home town on Martha’s Vineyard before it moved to Newport, Rhode Island, the book profiles a team on their boat, Swamp Yankee, as they compete to catch the largest sharks. There are bright, flash-lit images of the men and the sea, including close-up portraits and images showing them preparing huge hooks and lines and reeling them in, their tanned-on-the-verge-of-burned skin contrasting the dark blue water. There are images of fish used for bait and buckets of chum on the deck of the boat. And then there are the sharks themselves—while swimming, their fins cut through the water; caught and split open, their guts are examined by hands that belong perhaps to the marine biologists who attend the tournament and collect samples for research.
In these images, Shannon seem as captivated by the characters on the boat as she is by the plight of the sharks, who appear on the boat’s deck, gaff in mouth, or hang by their tail at their weigh-in, dripping blood. Her affection and sympathy are for both. In an interview, Shannon describes growing up around the event. “I loved going down to see them weigh the sharks each summer when I was a little kid, but as I got older I started to have mixed feelings,” she says. “It’s very easy to dismiss the entire thing as a massacre of sharks but I think theres a lot more going on here than just that, which is one of the reasons I wanted to photograph it. Not only was there a scientific and sociological element, but being able to see sharks up close was a really magical experience.” A book launch and signing for Swamp Yankee takes place July 28 at Printed Matter in New York City.