Faces of a Fish Empire

The Story

In April of 2016, photographer and curator Naomi Shersty attended the funeral of Tom Kutchera, former owner of Empire Fish Company and amateur photographer. She discovered two albums of portraits by Tom, taken between the 1960s and ‘80s, that captured Empire Fish’s workers who supplied fish to Milwaukee’s many fish fries and restaurants. That discovery led her to turn these portraits of a “work family” into a photo exhibit. And now, Tom’s sons, Joe and Andrew, have turned the exhibit, photos, and a manuscript that Tom left behind into a book – Faces of a Fish Empire – that tell the story behind their father’s portraits as well as the decline of commercial fishing on Lake Michigan.

5 portraits from Faces of a Fish Empire

This visual history of Empire Fish and commercial fishing exhibit tell a larger story beyond a single company. It captures the anthropological changes of Milwaukee: its culture, food, religion, and demographics. On a larger scale, it embodies the incredible changes in technology (freezers, transportation, and computers) and the transformation in our relationship to Lake Michigan and the Great Lakes.

 Empire Fish original storefront
 
 

Faces of a Fish Empire

Photographs by Tom Kutchera
Written by Joe Kutchera
Research by Michael Timm
Designed by Andrew Kutchera
Curated by Naomi Shersty

Winner of 2nd Place (Silver) in the “Print / Print Editorial” category in the 11th Annual International Design Awards (IDA)

 

Traveling Photography Exhibition

The Rangefinder/Leica Gallery (Chicago), March – April 2019 with an opening reception on Friday, March 1 from 6-9pm

Milwaukee Public Library, July 2017 – hosted by the Wisconsin Marine Historical Society

Portrait Society Gallery, September 2 – November 6, 2016

 

Advance Praise

“Art, history, and science form a winning combination in this unique book of Wisconsin lore. Faces of a Fish Empire is a portrait, both visual and historical, of a unique family business, but it uses the lens of family to focus on two larger stories: the changing face of the seafood business and the declining fortunes of Lake Michigan’s commercial fishing industry.”

John Gurda, author and historian

 

Book Preview

Scroll through the pages of our book here:

Faces of a Fish Empire - The Book

 

Table of Contents

  1. The Story Behind This Book
  2. Labor through a Fresh Lens: Portraits by Tom Kutchera
  3. Portraits 1950s –60s
  4. Empire Fish Picnic circa 1960
  5. Portraits 1970s–80s
  6. A Family Business in a Century of Change: The History of Empire Fish Company
  7. Commercial Fishing in Milwaukee and Wisconsin: A Century of Decline
  8. View Toward the Future
  9. Note About Our Research
  10. Bibliography
  11. Recommended Reading
  12. Acknowledgments
  13. About the Contributors
  14. Closing Recipe

Free Sample Chapters

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