Q&A: Photojournalist Rebecca Ratliff
Mandeville native Rebecca Ratliff is a recent Louisiana State University graduate who has found a niche photographing the men and women who make Louisiana’s seafood industry work. While other aspects of her portfolio include everything from jazz clubs to the Greek countryside, the dirty work of hauling in fish by the ton have kindled a particular interest that she’s not done exploring.
How did your interest in fishing come about?
My mom’s cousin-in-law is from the Sorrento area, and he has a crawfish farm that he works on the side. I was working for LSU’s LEGACY Magazine, and for a photojournalism project, I asked him if I could come out onto the boat and see how crawfish came from the pond to the plate.
His brother does crab fishing in Lake Pontchartrain and I made that the main story of my senior project for photography class. It was the same process, following crabs from the traps to the seafood market. I’ve been trying to expand into other kinds of seafood, to show how fishing is connected with families around here.
Talk a little about the experiences of going out on these fishing trips for the first time.
Crawfishing wasn’t too hard to photograph, because we were in a little pond. Crabbing was more challenging. It’s difficult to shoot on a boat, and when they pull up the crab trap, they don’t stop. They pull in traps as they’re moving. It’s like you’re constantly going in circles for five hours. Drum fishing was easy. We were in Barataria Bay, where the water is just maybe four or five feet deep. They have bamboo poles sticking out of the water to mark where the lines are, and just pull in the line and take out the hooks.
What impressed you most about these experiences?
Seeing how these people live simply. Barataria is a quiet town, with the nicest people you’d ever meet. They work hard for the money they make. Whenever people think of seafood, they only tend to think about how good the food is.
Growing up in Louisiana and eating seafood is such a natural thing. I think about that differently now. You know the Certified Louisiana Seafood label you see on fish in grocery stores? I hope people see that label and buy it because of that.
How did you go about selecting photos?
There are specific moments where the lighting is perfect, and everything comes together as one. For this project, I took hundreds of photos, shooting constantly, trying to find that right moment. That’s how I picked the ones I used.
But now, I’m learning to wait for that moment, instead of photographing so much. I’m learning to be more observant.
What’s next for you, career-wise?
I’d love to work for travel magazines or online, freelancing around or maybe moving somewhere else. I’m only 24, so I’m into whatever opens up.
View a slideshow of Rebecca Ratliff’s photography, which is also for sale, at Rebecca-Ann-Photography.com. To learn more about the importance of fishermen (like those she photographed) to the state’s economy and culture, visit our Industry page.