Ice Shanties: Fishing, People & Culture

October 24, 2020 - March 6, 2021

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The ice shanty towns that spring up on Vermont’s frozen lakes and ponds are markers of the seasonal communities they harbor each winter. Practical and ingenious, shaped by function and aesthetics, ice shanties are a window into the personal, familial, and local cultures of ice fishing.

These simple yet intriguing structures captured the attention of Colombian-born photographer and part-time Vermont resident Federico Pardo, who in 2016 began documenting the shanties on a frozen floodplain of the West River in Brattleboro, known locally as the “The Meadows.”

Over the course of two winter seasons Pardo photographed the shanties using long-duration exposures, beginning his work after sunset and continuing long into the night. The resulting images, lit by both sunset and moonlight, carry a surreal quality of blended night and day.

Pardo’s photographs offer an atmospheric survey of the structures, the stark landscape from which they spring, and the human presence residing tentatively on an icy surface. His photographs tempt us to imagine otherworldly narratives about the shanties, their owners and the seemingly timeless space they inhabit.

Dreamlike and speculative, Pardo’s images are drawn down to earth by the voices of the shanty owners themselves—many of whom agreed to be interviewed by Vermont Folklife Center researchers for this exhibition. In these conversations the fishers speak of their shanties as structures, remark on the amenities and people they house, detail the practice of ice fishing, and, directly and indirectly, reflect the relationships, connections and community they reinvent each year at the Meadows.

Together, the images and voices give us a chance to connect with the material and human cultures of these ice fishing enclaves.

— The Vermont Folklife Center

As a biologist, a photographer, and a filmmaker, I have always been focused on humans’ relationship with nature. At the beginning of my career, my photographs mostly took a documentary and taxonomical approach to describing species and ecosystems, as well as capturing the processes and intricacies of making science. Later on, while I was pursuing an MFA, my ideas expanded into the realm of “contemporary photography,” broadening the way I produce and understand photography.

When thinking about the images from the Ice Shanties series, two main questions come to mind: what is nature without humans, and what are humans without nature? In asking questions, I don’t seek to find correct answers but rather to open up conversations about human-nature interactions across different cultures and latitudes.

As a Colombian who moved to Vermont a couple years ago, I instantly became curious about and fascinated by the peculiar structures that adorn the frozen waters of Brattleboro’s West River. What are they for? Who uses them? Why do they have such unique looks? Friends quickly answered these questions, but my obsession with the tiny houses, the frozen ecosystem, the fishing culture, and the ephemeral aspect of the landscape pushed me to take a deeper look.

When I came across the shanties, photographing them in broad daylight didn’t seem fitting. The fully revealing light and bright atmosphere felt detached from the ideas of ethereality, solitude, and contemplation. At night, however, a whole new world is revealed: the absence or presence of moonlight, the color of the night, the city lights and traffic, the frozen tracks of life on the snow, and the connection between the shanties and the ecosystem. Night also allows us to delve into imaginary narratives about life on the ice, narratives that are complemented by the daylight portraits of “frozen” fish and “buried” fishing traps.

— Federico Pardo

The Vermont Folklife Center’s Vision & Voice Exhibition Program presents multimedia exhibits and programs that highlight the quiet miracles of everyday living. The Center’s work is grounded in collaborative ethnographic inquiry–spending time with people, interviewing them, and documenting their lives, with the goal of seeking to understand, as best we can, how they make sense of the world. Through its Vision & Voice Exhibition Program, VFC partners with individuals and communities across the state to share their perspectives, creating exhibits that aim to build mutual understanding, foster empathy, and cultivate a future where all Vermonters are valued.

 

RELATED EVENTS (links coming soon)

January 23 & 30, Saturdays, 10 a.m. – Workshop: Mini Upcycled Ice Shanties
January 27, Wednesday, 7 p.m. – Artist Talk: Ned Castle and Federico Pardo
February 16, Tuesday, 7 p.m. – Ice Fishing: Culture, Community, and Conservation
Dates and times TBA – Artful Ice Shanty Design/Build Competition

RELATED RESOURCES

Take a virtual tour of the exhibit
Photo Gallery