Our meeting last night came as a surprise topic from a photographer with a real passion for re-visiting, past industrial processes, decaying mines (mainly coal), cotton mills, decommissioned power stations and a host of other unused sites which many of us in our club, can remember in their hey day before the ecological damage that was being caused was really recognised.
Andy is a Lancastrian, now living in Chorley, who has been motivated to capture many of the decaying buildings where men, and indeed women, were able to earn money to raise their families in an era when Great Britain was known for its manufacturing base on a wide front. It was refreshing to note that his studies of the work of a number of 20th century photographers had created such a strong impression on his own style. It was particularly interesting to note that on arriving at a site he viewed his subject and had a firm idea on exactly how the image, he was about to produce, should appear and his practical skills mostly attained that target.
The notion of creating a photo essay, as described in words in LIFE magazine, formed the basis for his progression when approaching a project. We were shown an aluminium sand-casting foundry, a one-man operation, and the tools and processes were photographed in a style that demonstrated the intricacies of the production of the finished casting and, indeed, the final clearing up ready for the next day’s work. From this we toured a number of cotton mills, all closed down in the 20th century and the monochrome images enhanced the sadness of the entire scenario. One particular shot gave us the juxtaposition of the crumbling buildings in the foreground and the sunlight bright modern skyscrapers of the Manchester skyline in the distance. A mill in Burnley was shown in its final throes and an inside image was described as 400,000 cu ft of nothing.
Although we can stumble upon some really photogenic sites, the serious photographer will carry out his research and Andy shared with us many of the sources that he uses e.g., the grapevine, Facebook, Instagram, news, newspapers, www.Geograph.org.uk, Google Earth and Street view. He demonstrated his sharp eye when spotting a chimney in a field near Howarth and set about finding and photographing Griffe Mill in Stanbury, which had been closed in 1922, and was now being returned to the countryside, the images were evocative. The breadth of his subjects was quite amazing, an abandoned linoleum factory in Doncaster, a mill in Saddleworth near Oldham, a small mill in Haslingden. All of these were interpreted thoughtfully to evoke the power of suggestion and to use the filter of the human mind to bring about a changing state, not just a photo record.
The notion of past industries took us to the wreck of the TSS Duke of Lancaster, a former railway steamer passenger and sea Link Ferry that operated in Europe from 1956 to 1979, and is currently beached near Mostyn Docks, on the River Dee, north-east Wales known as the “Mostyn fun ship” though its future is uncertain. Onward to Fleetwood near Blackpool, Andy has captured a number of rotting hulls of fishing vessels from the 60’s and 70’s and their skeletal remains were captured by the drone to demonstrate their diminishing profile.
The cooling towers of Thorpe Marsh Power Station near Doncaster (1963 -1994) captured both inside and outside show us what once generated our electricity but now have been demolished to make way for a more sophisticated gas fired type. Many other now defunct structures, covered in poor graffiti and overgrown with weeds and vandalised were photographed before evidence of their existence disappears. The Scunthorpe steelworks, imaginatively captured with a relatively new housing estate in the foreground was the introduction to a number of sites which bore witness to our manufacturing heritage and these included the Rouge steelworks, associated with the Ford plant in Detroit, where a serious 12-month photo study of those processes and decline was carried out. Scunthorpe steel works showed the high contrast leading lines of the railway tracks which carried the iron ore. Onward to Redcar steel plant illustrated with a family on horseback adjacent to the sea drew a picture requiring our thoughts. This was further enhanced with a caravan park bordering the industrial decline and showing a blast furnace in the background – some holiday home! We may have hit rock bottom with views of Middlesbrough and Teesside in an are described as “the ugliest landscape ever” the drone enhanced the appalling view.
The work of Bernd & Hilla Becher was a recurring theme within Andy’s talk and the compilation of similar photographs, known as typography, on a similar theme e.g., Colliery Head Gear, gas holders, silos, etc. all grouped together provided an interesting style of presentation they are intellectual constructs in which objects with similar relevant attributes are grouped together to meet the ideas and needs of the classifier. These have been publicly exhibited. There seems to be no limit to our author’s incessant compulsion to search out sites for this body of work and the slate mines of North Wales near Llanberis, proved to be a fertile site to demonstrate the huge extent of this activity, most of which went to waste. It is now a barren almost Martian landscape and redundant machinery has been left in-situ as it is too expensive to reclaim the scrap value from such remote locations.
Finally, and to the surprise of many of us, near Middlesbrough on the North Sea coast the oil rig known as Brent Delta was being scrapped by controlled dismantling, a few years later it had completely disappeared to be replaced by the rig Brent Bravo and soon that too will be distant history, just like the high cranes of the Cammell Laird shipyard at Birkenhead. This type of photography is a race against time. How interesting to be shown the huge changes that have taken place in such a relatively short time. To see more of Andy’s work visit: