Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome to Dutch Harbor. Pt One

Photo by Casey Kusyk

Long time no blog.
Long story...

Around October 1, I got a call from my dear friend Ethan Prochnick, wondering if I'd like to come up to Dutch Harbor for "the easiest producing job on the show". That being "land producer" for the Discovery series, "Deadliest Catch". And, relatively speaking, he was being honest. But as my friend Lanny Sikes, who lived and worked in Juno for over a decade recently stated:
"Alaska is not for pussies...Life (is) so dangerous & vivid - not a lot of margin for errors. And so terribly beautiful."
Amen, Lanny.

Not So Great Escape- A Red King Crab makes a (fruitless) run for it.

The learning curve on this job has been, well, steep. Steep as a snow covered cliff-face capped by Bald Eagles defecating on your Gore-tex. I am a "Land Crab", a green-horn "Deadliest Catch" producer helping to round out stories and imagery on land for a show that takes place largely at sea. On my first day I was handed a camera and told to get out there and shoot a "meet and greet" between a one of our producer/shooter teams and their new captain. The producer was seasoned, the boat was new to the show, and I had no goddamned clue how to focus my brand new Sony Z5 HDV Cam. It was a sweaty few days.

Partners in Land Crab- Ben Murray, Casey Kusyk

And there's scant little mercy to go around, since the greater majority of our crew is out on boats in the Bering Sea, risking all, and I mean all, alongside some of the toughest laborers in the world: Bering Sea crab fishermen. Theirs- on both sides of the camera- is a brutal job, hard on the body, the head and, when in port, the liver. My job is actually a few jobs slapped over one another: behind the scenes when crew are in town, meeting boats, filming off-loads, chasing down on-land dramas (I say nothing here, watch season seven, my advice), filming b-roll- the worse the weather, the better, the more nautical the happier the folks back in Burbank.

It is, in fact, a great fucking job. I have gained a fluency in a range of camera technology most folks only drool over in camera mags, gotten the chance to work with some of the best, most insane reality shooter/producers in the business, had the monumental presence of the "terribly beautiful" topography of Alaska to toil in, and, last but not least, had it all in the one and only Dutch Harbor. Dutch is a great many things to a small, rarefied mix of people: a place rich in Aleut history, a contested battleground in WWII, a hard drinking palace of fast fortunes, a place to get lost in, a place to test your mettle, a place to get away, a place to work. Hard. Everybody in Dutch - from dockworkers to doctors to welders to processors- works very, very hard. It's a culture of creative survival and ingenuity. People up here have chops. When the Apocalypse comes, it's to Alaska I will run.

Lucky Lady herself, aboard her eponymous vessel, "Lucky Lady",
ready for land after 3 months at sea, fishing halibut.

I don't have a ton of time to shoot much of my own stuff, thanks to plenty of shooting needs for the show, but every once in a while, as the Kesslar "Pocket Dolly" is running a time-lapse, I wander around with my Nikon D700 and try to chronicle the stoic, strange beauty of this place. Long a fishing port, the narrow shorelines are marked by strange dumps of lines and nets, processing plants, fueling stations and potyards.

Alyeska Processing Plant, Dutch Harbor

The effect is both overwhelmingly industrial and uniquely hand-made. Massive plates of steel are coerced into shape, nudged into place and loaded with "gear" while nets and buoys and lines lie in forgotten storage, looking oddly toy-like and fanciful. At other times, say, the rare day when the weather is too nice for the show (Deadliest Catch has a very stormy aesthetic, blue skies don't cut it), I blast around the few roads Unalaska Island offers and explore.

Bunkhouses, East Point Rd., Dutch Harbor

Margaret's Bay, Dutch Harbor, looking toward Alyeska Processing


The town of Unalasaka, flanked by bays and lorded over by mountains, is the gateway to both sides of the island, and home to the bulk of both it's Aleut and military history.

The town of Unalaska, looking East

The surrounding tundra bears copious scars of bunkers and ancient civilizations alike while the coastline teems with rare Emperor Geese, Harlequin Ducks, sea otters, seals, sea lions, and, of course, Bald Eagles; the land and culture vibrates with history, human, geologic and biologic.

An immature Bald Eagle tears into frozen cod, foraged from a boat.

And, so, without further ado, the opening salvo of my time on Dutch; a glimpse of a profoundly gorgeous, ever changing, unrelentingly unapologetic place. To date, I have never encountered a more dramatic, more alive, more austere and more intimidatingly beautiful landscape. Much more to come...

AP Ben Murray- a man of dry wit and lethal asides, on Ballyhoo Hill

Basalt ridge, Summer's Bay

Moonrise over Unalaska Bay