Trouble in the Water
Photography by Matt Eich, essay by Spencer Strub. Edited by Christy Wiles for Issue 1, October 2011.
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From the tall grass and glassy waters of the bayou to a family owned and operated alligator farm in Houma, Louisiana, “Trouble in the Water” explores two sides of the American alligator industry—the wild gator hunt and the inland farm—and the multiple generations who make it their living. Matt Eich’s photographs profile a pair of gator hunters, Gaudet and Rageur, and three generations of gator farmers on the Ledet family farm in Houma, Louisiana.
From my first conversation with Matt Eich, I knew he was exactly the kind of photographer Once editors want to work with. His passion for the craft, his empathetic lens, and the energy he invests in his stories are immediately evident in his images. As a founding member of LUCEO Images cooperative, Eich—along side Kendrick Brinson, whose Sun City story was featured in the Once Pilot Issue—is helping build a new model for delivering and supporting documentary photography as it moves into the future.
Editing Eich’s images, I saw two stories. First, I saw the stunning images of mass-produced alligators, and second, I saw the universal American story of a family doing everything it can to keep itself and its business intact as they adjust to the tough economic times since the 2008 recession. I was blown away by Eich’s capacity to maintain the visual spectacle of the gator business while still communicating the intimacy of family life on the American farm.
This past June, I had the privilege of meeting Matt Eich at the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I had several conversations with him and his fellow LUCEO members (David Walter Banks, Kendrick Brinson, Daryl Peveto, and Matt Slaby) about the future of photography and publishing. In talking with Eich amidst a packed house at the closing reception for LUCEO’s LOOK3 exhibition, I was impressed to hear about LUCEO’s collaborative structure—each photographer plays a specific role in the cooperative beyond the production of his/her own photography work. One member offers legal advice, another handles social media, and so-on. In many ways, LUCEO has found a successful new model for producing and distributing photography that provides an alternative to the more traditional photographer-agency relationship. In discussing the future of the field, it was clear to me that LUCEO’s commitment to long-term photographic projects and their pioneering spirit make for an interesting ongoing conversation between Once Magazine and the cooperative, and we are thrilled to feature his images of alligator hunting and farming in Issue 1.