National Fisherman sat down with Ben Matthews, a freelance photographer specializing in the outdoor industry, to better understand his view on the Bristol Bay salmon industry. Matthews shoots for various companies, some of which are commercial fishing specific, like Grundens and YETI.

Based in Spokane, WA, Matthews has a strong passion for the outdoors and keeping the wild, well, wild. You can typically find him in the mountains, on the river, or somewhere in between. He motivates people to explore the wild places surrounding them and break out of their comfort zones.

Matthews answered a few questions about what he's seen and the people he's photographed and permitted us to share his work. 

What led you to photograph the salmon industry in the first place?

I’ve always been interested in where our food comes from. After moving to Seattle and seeing the rough-looking fishing boats at Fisherman’s Terminal and the boats being worked on in the Ballard area. And the history and current fishing industry that is still a big part of that city, it struck something in me that I couldn’t let go. I had to know more and I wanted to experience that industry firsthand.

How’d you end up on a boat in Bristol Bay?

Shortly after moving to Seattle, I met my (now) wife and her family. Some of which are commercial fishermen; one of her uncle’s has been going up to Bristol Bay for over 40 years. His whole family goes up every year now. His oldest son has since started his own fishing business and has his own boat and fishing lease. I expressed interest in coming up some summer to join them for a week or so and they immediately said I could come up anytime. So I went. 

What is it about the people that you photograph that made you want to visually tell their story?

A big part of what made me interested in shooting the industry, initially, was the people. The family part made it special, but all of the characters and incredible people up there are just a joy to be around and everyone has their own story to tell. Especially the more I’ve traveled around Alaska and experienced different types of fishing methods. Outside of Bristol Bay.

Could you talk about some of your work with Grundens and what it’s like shooting for that company?

I’ve been working with Grundens for the past few years and they’ve been great to work with! I did my first shoot with them in 2022 while on a sport fishing trip up on Prince of Whales Island. I guess they liked the images and wanted to keep working with me! Since that first trip, I’ve kind of been all over the place with them. Been back to Alaska four times, down to Florida, California, Michigan and we’ve done a few shoots here in Washington too. It’s been fun.

You (somewhat recently) published a photobook, Run of the Reds; what went into that project?

Yeah! That was a very small run of books, but it was a goal of mine to create a photobook of my own one day and after visiting Bristol Bay and South Naknek from 2018 - 2022 I decided I had enough photos to put together a cohesive photo journal of that area, the people and the fish that keep coming back every year. It’s a selection of 50 photos that I culled down out of however many thousand I’ve taken up there and it was a lot of fun to put together and self-publish. I was also able to showcase a gallery of my work at the Leica Store in Bellevue, WA and do a little presentation on the project as well. The gallery featured 16 large format prints and they were on display for three months in the store. It was definitely a highlight in my photography career so far. 

What’s some of the coolest things you’ve seen in photographing the commercial fishing industry?

I grew up in Missouri, so… all of it? Honestly, my first-time seeing Alaska was on my way to Bristol Bay. Just seeing the wild natural phenomenon of the salmon runs blows my mind every time. Such a cool fish. On one of my more recent trips for a Grundens photoshoot, we went all the way out to Elfin Cove to shoot the tail end of the run up there and in some nasty seas we had a small pod of Orcas come up real close to the boat we were on to check things out. Probably not the best thing to see while you’re fishing for salmon, but it was still cool to see!

What have you learned about the industry through talking/working with individuals that make it up? 

The people in this industry really do care about the resource and want what’s best for the fish and their ecosystem. No fish. No jobs. It’s pretty inspiring. Especially with how Alaska, specifically, manages their salmon fisheries. It’s cool to see how sustainable most of these fisheries are thanks to the fishermen and ADFG working together.

Are there any stories of individuals that have stuck with you?

Outside of the commercial fishing, that traditional hook experience was pretty special. They use wooden hooks to catch halibut and some of the fish exceed 150 pounds. That’s handlined. That was out of Craig, So my friend’s dad is a commercial fisherman, but obviously that wasn’t for commercial fishing. They were just going out for the day, like they normally do to fill the cooler. 

How can people access/support your work?


Instagram: @bentommat

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Ben Matthews (@bentommat) • Instagram photos and videos

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Ben Hayden grew up in the shipyards of northern Massachusetts.  His passion for storytelling came about on a freelance film that highlighted businesses, farmers, and fishermen while sailing up the coast of Maine. He can be reached at [email protected].

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