9 Nov
Ice fishing in the frozen tundras of Canada


Photographer Tom Fowlks is a dying breed. He’d rather spend a week driving his 1984 Cadillac Fleetwood up to Montana chasing down Evel Knievel than photographing the latest CW disposable starlet. Or fill his trunk with lenses and film and head to some remote locale to shoot for Outside, Fast Company, Intersection, ESPN, Wallpaper or Dwell. I remember the first time I met him he rolled up to my house driving a blacked out Grand National — a car so evil it made that Deathproof Chevy Nova look like Barbie’s Corvette, and I wondered what the hell was up with this guy. Now I know — he’s just a bad ass dude. Since then we’ve done many stories together, and Fowlks always blows me away with what he manages to capture with his lens. He has the rare gift of seeing sublime beauty in the bizarre, fringe elements of life. And the even rarer gift of masterfully catching those elements on film. In this particular photography series Tom went up to the frozen tundras of Michigan and Manitoba to photograph the “sport” of ice fishing. I say sport, but it’s really more of an activity, isn’t it? Anyway, check out the galleries of the images he brought home and read the short Q&A below…

So tell me about this trip — what inspired you to check out these ice fisherman? How had you heard of them?

The trip was some time ago, but thinking back I feel like it was the idea of rugged individualism that drew me to spend some time looking into this culture of ice fishing. The movie Fargo may have had something to do with it as well. The absolute isolation in a “white out” world.

What was the trip up there like? And how many days were you out there?

The photos come form 2 different trips. The first one was to the surrounding suburbs of Detroit. I chose that simply because a friend’s family lived there and offered to put me up for a week in their home. Their son is a photographer as well, so I think they understood the drive in a personal project. I spent a week on that trip and really saw a wide variety of people participating in this ice fishing.

The second trip was up to Winnipeg, Manitoba — that’s in Canada for those of you that aren’t familiar, and it’s rated as the second coldest major city in the world after Vladivostok in Russia. I have family all over that area as my mom is originally from there, so that was an extra draw in choosing to go up there. It was certainly cold, but not in the extreme sense that I had prepared for.

Did they look at you like a soft-skinned city dweller when you showed up to photograph them?

Yes!! Some of them did look at me as the soft skinned guy form the big city — I lived in Hollywood at the time, so that made them laugh all the more. In one sitting, they saw the LAX tags on my camera case and said I must be crazy to have come all the way up there to take pictures in the freezing winter. This, coming from a guy sitting on a 5-gallon bucket with a line in a small hole in the ice. And he hadn’t caught anything in the couple of hours he had been there — if my memory is playing games with me, well then he had about 3-4 perch!! Those are real, real little suckers.

Some of the people were perfectly happy being photographed and rather warmed up to the proposition. A few that were in ice shacks even invited me in and shared a couple of cold ones with me. But for every one of them, there was at least one that was suspicious and refused to have a portrait taken. I can only imagine that they were interested in preserving a certain anonymity…think post office portrait.

Hit the Jump for 2 more galleries and the rest of the Q&A…


What kind of equipment did they keep in their ice shelters? What was the most elaborate setup you saw?

The most surprising thing about these people was that generally they were having a good time just sitting around swapping stories of the week past, telling jokes, etc. To the uninformed, it looks boring as all hell. But they are outside and I guess escaping something that wouldn’t be as pleasant. That could be as simple as the wife, girlfriend, husband, family etc., but everyone needs a little “me” time once in a while.

What’s the last piece of technology that has affected your creative output?

Last piece of technology… to affect my creative output…. Hmmmm…. I still shoot film as often as I can. So I guess the onset of digital photography has been that last thing. I finally got a digital SLR, so I am adapting.

What’s the most interesting place you’ve visited to photograph in the last 12 months?

Most interesting place would have to say was the Panama Canal! When you go to the locks and get up on the observation platform it feels something akin to being at old faithful as far as the crowd draw (or what I imagine cape Canaveral would be like). Only it is a marvel of mans making.

Have you had any notable run-ins with the law while practicing your art?

I have had my share of run ins with the law. Sure. Usually because I pretended not to see the sign that said “authorized personnel only beyond this point”. Most every time I have talked my way free, but I did get cited for trespassing on federal property at the Hoover Dam and that resulted in a ticket with a nice little fine.

Do you have any magical powers?

NO! I have no magical powers. Though if I could, I would love to have some sort of power over the minds of others and convince them to hire me a bit more often.

What is your most recent extravagance?

Extravagance!! My storage space.

If you were Lost In a Supermarket, what aisle would we find you in?

You would definitely find me in the meat section!! I don’t understand vegetarianism!! How could you not wanna eat one of those beautiful dry-aged steaks?!!?

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