300 W. Superior
Chicago, IL 60654
Tom Kutchera (1932-2016) bought his Leica M3 film camera while driving an ambulance in the U.S. Army in Germany during the mid-1950’s. He taught himself photography during his two years abroad and returned to his hometown of Milwaukee to begin working in the family business, Empire Fish Company, a wholesale seafood distributor and retail store in Milwaukee, WI. He incorporated his love of photography into his work by taking portraits of its employees from the 1960’s until he retired in 1995, when Neesvig’s Food Service purchased the business.
Kutchera’s portraits can be compared to those by August Sander, the German portrait and documentary photographer who captured the tradesmen, artists and farmers of Germany in the first half of the 20th Century. Preserved in family albums, this unique collection of intimate portraits honor the individuals who supplied numerous Friday Night Fish Fries – a Midwestern staple. Through a humanitarian lens, Kutchera’s portraits celebrate those who don’t often get commemorated: the production workers behind the scenes.
Tom’s sons, Andrew and Joe, 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 larger history and decline of Lake Michigan’s many family-owned fish companies and fishermen.
Image: Tom Kutchera