In 1974, Arnold Jarmak moved to Gloucester seeking to find new surroundings and his path in life as a young man of 24.
He wanted to be a documentary photographer, and the city was ripe with subject matter. It was a time when Gloucester Harbor was filled with fishing vessels and a bustling working waterfront.
After an inquiry to photograph a fishing voyage, Jarmak found himself aboard the Lady of Good Voyage, with Capt. Joe Novello at the helm. The job at hand was to deliver the boat to Honduras after making stops in the harbors of New York City and Miami.
The voyage made a life-changing impact on the young photographer.
In 1974, on a visit to the popular haunt the Glass Sailboat, Jarmak learned about the demolition of the building that housed the Gloucester Fishermen’s Institute. He began to document the downfall of the building, not knowing that, decades later, it would foreshadow a future change and decline in the industry.
“The Fishermen’s Institute was my first attempt at documentary photography,” said Jarmak, who lived in Gloucester for three years before moving to Chelsea, where he worked as chief photographer for a local newspaper for a decade.
This Friday, the Gloucester Writers Center opens an exhibit of Jarmak’s black-and-white photographs of the demolition of the Fishermen’s Institute, resurrecting his work that had been stored away in boxes for decades.
Established in Gloucester in 1891, the Fishermen’s Institute was organized by a minister of the East Gloucester Methodist Church. The institute later moved to a building at 8 Duncan St., which today is a parking lot for the Gloucester police station.
The institute served as a place for brief stays for fishermen in port and also as a gathering place for those who knew the dangers and labors of making a life from commercial fishing during its heyday. For some, it served as a residence.
“We are from the days of iron men and wooden boats. Today, fishermen are wooden men with iron boats,” said 72-year-old Danny Ciaramitaro in 1987 at what was then an annual luncheon of the institute at Captain Courageous restaurant in Gloucester.
Even though the institute lost its home base, the fishermen continued to meet at different locales, until eventually, the organization ceased to exist.
Reflecting on his first year in Gloucester, Jarmak talks warmly about what he learned from seasoned fishermen.
“Capt. Joe Novello was a fabulous, wonderful man. He said he started fishing in an open dory on the Grand Banks,” Jarmak said. “I was a young man, newly arrived, and I found myself on a boat built in the ’40s in Essex. Two weeks before, I was selling school furniture working for my dad, and then, I was at the helm of this Essex-built schooner.
“When I got back from the trip, after spending time with this great sea captain, there they were — knocking down the Fishermen’s Institute,” he said. “I decided to take a series of photographs of the building being torn down.”
The exhibit marks the first time that Jarmak’s photos have been seen in 44 years, when they were last exhibited in Gloucester. The Gloucester Writers Center invites the public to come “browse, mingle and remember” while taking in Jarmak’s photo essay.
Today, Jarmak, 70, who grew up in Marblehead, owns and operates a reclaimed lumber business, but he continues to exhibit his photography work.
“The images I recorded tell a story of working-class life in cities like Gloucester and Chelsea,” he said.
Looking back, he acknowledges that the experience and the feeling he got while in Gloucester was a time of metamorphosis of sorts.
“Gloucester enabled me to step out of my skin and grow into a new one,” he said. “At the time, Gloucester Harbor was filled with fishing boats, all wood fishing boats, when I was living there.
“Who knew in the 1970s that 35 or 40 years later, they would all be gone,” he said. “If I had known that, I would have only photographed fishing boats.”
IF YOU GO
What: “The Demolition of the Fishermen’s Institute,” a photographic essay by Arnold Jarmak, presented by the Gloucester Writers Center
When: Aug. 16-30. Opening reception this Friday, 5-7 p.m. Regular hours Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: The Maud/Olson Library, 108 E. Main St., Gloucester
How much: Free; reservations required for reception
More information: https://bit.ly/2Y8oxJi or text 978-810-4373