Stephen McCoy

I guess there are two phases to my career as a photographer: The first phase was as an educator, teaching part time at several colleges in the north-west, ending up as a full-time programme manager at Hugh Baird college in Bootle.

During this phase I worked on several projects and in roughly chronological order (although some did overlap) they were:

Pleasureland”: photographs of Southport fair out of season shot on 5×4 in black and white.

Keep off Sexy Drugs — Steve McCoy

Housing Estates”: photographs divided into four discrete sets that showed an evolution of approach to the same subject. Set1: 35mm graphic, contrasty black and white images. Set2: 35mm grey and understated black and white. Set3: 5×4 black and white and Set4: 5×4 colour.

Stephen McCoy

Demolition Sites”: 5×4 black and white photographs of areas of ground either where buildings were being demolished or where buildings had been demolished some time in the past.

Skelmersdale”: 5×4 black and white photographs of the people and environs of Skelmersdale built as a satellite new town, twenty miles from Liverpool. The now defunct Merseyside Arts employed me as a photographer in residence and I worked there for one day a week for twelve weeks. (I continued with the project after the funding finished.)

Stephen McCoy

The Plight of the Trolley”: medium format ,semi-humorous colour photographs of abandoned shopping trolleys.

Personal Space”: 35mm black and white photographs showing the quirky nature of modern family life.

River to River” colour 5×4 photographs of the coastline from the River Ribble to the River Mersey

The above work was variously exhibited and published at The Open Eye Gallery, Impressions York, The Bluecoat, Liverpool, The Atkinson, Southport, North-West photography Group shows, British Journal of Photography, Creative Camera.

Café Royal Books have printed: Skelmersdale and Housing Estates. Pleasureland is released today.

The second phase began in 1997 when Stephanie Wynne and myself formed the collaborative partnership: McCoy Wynne. We built up a successful commercial practice and were able to leave teaching in 2005, concentrating on commissioned work but also collaborating on personal projects, a selection of which are listed below. This second phase coincided with the increased use of digital techniques: another re-invention of photography.

Quiescence”: a study of dormant spaces was our first large project exhibited in 2008 and this led to McCoy Wynne being shortlisted for The Liverpool Art Prize in 2009 for: “An Avian Presence”

Bingo and Burial”: was exhibited as part of Liverpool Look 11 photofestival and we re-photographed from the original viewpoints of my demolition site photographs taken in the 1980’s.

Gulls”: photographs of the flight patterns of birds disturbed at night within the urban environment and exhibited at The University of Liverpool and recently at The University Centre, Blackpool.

Triangulation”: a long-term project to photograph all 310 triangulation pillars which will also provide a survey of the British landscape, exhibited as part of Liverpool Look 13 photofestival.

A further ongoing project “The Urban Forest” has also been recently exhibited.

The projects listed above, although varied in subject matter, all have a grounding in notions of documentary photography. We do not tend to photograph “events” or feel we take photographs that are “reportage” or “journalistic”. At the risk of sounding pretentious we consider ourselves to be conceptual documentary photographers.

Our concerns are more long term and we like to work on projects over several years. The acceptance of the factual nature of documentary photography is ideally suited to portraying the passage of time and the revival of some of my archival projects by Café Royal Books has highlighted how photographs, which were once contemporary, have become historical documents.

It’s also worth noting that very few of the projects have people as the major subject. We are more interested in environments, landscapes and artefacts. We have never felt entirely comfortable photographing strangers and no matter how careful one is there will always be some elements of exploitation.

Stephen McCoy 2015

Images below are from titles published by Café Royal Books.

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Talking Picture no. 23: Bessie Dickinson — Daniel Meadows

Following from the release of last week’s movie and book, from Bancroft Shed by Daniel Meadows, this week is a movie shot a year earlier, 1975 in Burnley. Still weaving, but perhaps the language of weaving in many ways.

Talking Picture no. 23: Bessie Dickinson
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Talking Picture no. 21: For Stanley — Daniel Meadows

Talking Picture no. 21: For Stanley, a movie made by Daniel Meadows about Stanley Graham who worked in a weaving mill in Barnoldswick, Lancashire. The movie, a part of the entire Daniel Meadows Archive, is held at the Library of Birmingham.

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This movie coincides with the second in a series of eight books I’m publishing with Daniel. The book, Bancroft Shed Weaving 1976, will be published and available this Thursday morning (19.02.15) from the Café Royal Books website.
Bacroft Shed Weaving 1976 — Daniel Meadows

You can follow Daniel’s movies on Vimeo.

Daniel Meadows

Those of you who have been following this new site so far, and those who find it in the future, will see that I’ve been posting movies by Daniel Meadows each week, as they’re released. Each offers a window into his archive which is now held at the Library of Birmingham.

During the first half of 2015 I’m publishing eight books and a limited edition box set. Each book is the subject of one of Daniel’s movies and the box set contains the eight corresponding movies on DVD, as well as the books. The 40 movies are being released now, over 40 weeks to celebrate the 40th year since The Free Photographic Omnibus project which Daniel began in 1972.

I asked Daniel whether he could write a short backstory for this blog; I’m always interested in ‘why’ and ‘how’ people do what they do. Daniel has also written a short text to accompany each of the eight movies and the eight books we’ll be releasing this year, the first of which was January and the next being this Thursday, February 19th 2015.

I’m sure you’ll enjoy Daniel’s writing below. Please visit and subscribe to his movies on his Vimeo page. Please also revisit this post, where I will add images and links to the ‘new’ movies as they become available.

 

Beginnings

Here’s how I remember why I became a documentary photographer.

It was the summer of 1970, I was eighteen years old and in my final year at a west country boarding school. It was a mean-spirited place and my five years there had been grim, degrading even. With so many petty cruelties handed down each day, I’d learned only about the compliance of fear.

With just weeks to go before my release and sure only of what I did not know, I was fizzing. With rage, yes, but also with an insatiable curiosity to know about people whose lives were other than my own. I knew no one working class, no one black or brown, and – outside of my own family – no women.

There’s a documentary from 1969, Beautiful, Beautiful a BBC Omnibus programme. I looked it out recently, an old VHS. It shows photographer Bruce Davidson working in Harlem. “People have an innate dignity,” he says. “They will set themselves before the camera in a dignified way. And they will choose what they will give.” Undoubtedly that film set something playing in my head.

Then, in May 1970, I went to see Bill Brandt’s retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London. Brandt, it hit me, was using his camera as a passport to let him slip, effortlessly it seemed, between the social classes. How I envied him.

For me, going to Manchester that autumn was not just a journey from south to north, it was a removal, out of my own class (good riddance) and into other people’s. And there it was, in All Saints, in the photography school on the third floor of a tower block in the newly created polytechnic, that I began to learn how I too might slip between the classes. With dignity.

And I’m still learning.

These Café Royal Editions

In my subsequent photographic career one piece of work in particular, done in 1973-74 aboard the Free Photographic Omnibus, has become well-known. This is largely because of the enthusiasm and energy of writer and curator Val Williams who has long championed the street portraits I made during that time both in exhibitions and in books[1]. However, what is not widely understood is that the “bus portraits”, as they have become known, were made as part of a much more comprehensive documentary adventure, something that includes audio recordings, works of photo-reportage, digital stories and short movies; and that it’s an adventure which continues to this day.

In 1975, in the last paragraph of my first book Living Like This, I wrote the following about my work. “I hope that everyone who reads these stories will be able to enjoy a snatch of life as it is lived by someone else. For it is only by appreciating each other’s circumstances that we can hope to improve our world.”[2]

I like that, it’s good. I could write the same today and it would still be good.

In my archive, now housed at the Library of Birmingham, are many picture stories which have nothing to do with the bus and which have never been published or, at least, have been published only in part. Here though, in Café Royal editions, a number are being published whole and for the first time. And that’s exciting. Also, each edition is accompanied by a short movie online, a Talking Picture, in which the voices of those who appear in the photographs can be heard.

 

These are the stories.

Stockport Gypsies and Travellers

http://vimeo.com/65219653

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In 1971, when we were both nineteen and students at Manchester Polytechnic, Shireen Shah joined me on my visits to Stockport’s gypsy and traveller site. She was studying sociology and researching for her dissertation. In 2013 she recalled those trips:

“This was a time when the local councils were meant to be making provision for them [gypsies and travellers] to have a site so they could stop and not be illegal. But many of the councils didn’t provide sites. This was one of the few places that they could stop and not be illegal. I called my dissertation Out of Gear.

“They weren’t liked. I went with them once to the laundry. They took their washing up to a laundry and one of them explained how you’d never use the same plastic bowl for washing clothes, your lettuce, separate stuff. But you could see that people didn’t want them to be coming in.”

 

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James Nutter and Sons, Bancroft Shed, Barnoldswick

https://vimeo.com/112802871

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Between 1975 and 1977 I worked as photographer-in-residence to the Borough of Pendle: the towns of Nelson, Colne, Barnoldswick and Earby in north-east Lancashire. Here I made a series of extensive documentary studies. James Nutter and Sons at Bancroft Shed, Barnoldswick was one of these. The last remaining steam powered cotton weaving mill in the district, Bancroft’s buildings and machinery were largely unchanged since its construction during the first world war.

 

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The Engine House, Bancroft Shed

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During my time as photographer-in-residence I got to know and, in due course become friends with, Stanley Graham, the steam engineer (‘tenter’) at Bancroft. Stanley was a key contact, introducing me to his fellow employees in the mill, to the Weldone gang of boiler fluers from Brierfield and to Rochdale steeplejack Peter Tatham. In return, I helped him with his photography and audio recording.

In due course the mill closed and, in 1982, it was demolished. Stanley, who had a passion for history, attended evening classes at Nelson & Colne College and later went on to complete a degree at Lancaster University. During this time he also produced an extraordinary and unrivalled study of workers in the cotton trade, the Lancashire Textile Project (LTP), now housed in the special collections archive of Lancaster University.

In 2004 Stanley was awarded a fieldwork and recording lifetime achievement award by the Association for Industrial Archaeology.

 

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Weldone Boiler Fluers

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Weldone of Brierfield, a family firm of chimney sweeps, cleaned Bancroft’s boiler and chimney flues three times every year but, by 1976 when I photographed him, Charlie Sutton, the boss, had had enough.

“I’ve known every bloody boiler house in this part of the country,” he told me, “I’ve been to hell and back.” He was forty-nine and exhausted.

“I have a bad heart. I told Jack [his mate who worked with him inside the boilers], if he comes to me funeral, I want half a bottle o’ Bell’s puttin’ in with me, and me fluin’ mask.”

In October that year, following the publication of a spread of these pictures in Lancashire Life magazine, a buyer for Weldone was found and Charlie Sutton was able to retire. I’m almost certain that this is the only set of photographs ever done of boiler fluers at work.

 

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Peter Tatham, Steeplejack

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In September 1976 I photographed Rochdale steeplejack, Peter Tatham, first ladder and then demolish the 150 foot (46 metre) chimney of the former Salford city incinerator.

With a hole cut in the chimney’s side at the bottom so that rubble could be removed, Peter worked his way down the stack. Sitting astride the wall he took it apart piece by piece, dropping sections of cast iron and brickwork down inside the shaft.

“It’s a job like this,” he explained. “If you’re workin’ up there, you need to have done the labourin’ job to understand what the labourer’s doin’ down there and what you want him to do. The first time or two were a bit uncomfortable, ‘cos they stuck me up a big ‘un down in Rochdale first time, in winter. I got under the head and I came back down again. I couldn’t feel me bloody finger ends, you know?”

 

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Pig Killing, North Yorkshire

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In the winter of 1976-77 I visited Old Farm, Little Stainton in north Yorkshire. Here Cyril Richardson and his family reared pigs and, around Christmas, killed them. The hams and flitches were cured, the bacon hammered, rolled and hung up.

In the pictures Cyril is the man sharpening knives. His wife Elsie holds up the lace fat from the belly. Their daughter is Helen, their son-in-law farmer lad Tony Critchley. The butcher is Everett Moor. His assistant (in specs) is Jim Woodhouse. Wearing the ICI coat is Herbert Bray.

“The only thing that’s wasted with a pig,” said Elsie, “is its squeal.”

 

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Welfare State International

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As photographer-in-residence, one of my jobs was to record the work of Welfare State International, based in Burnley.

Formed in 1968 as a collective, Welfare State took art out of the privileged spaces of theatre and gallery, to reach new audiences. Innovators of community art, carnival, fire show spectaculars, lantern festivals and pioneering theatre of all kinds, Welfare State’s work has been internationally acclaimed.

“In those days you could get free teeth and free coffins,” co-founder John Fox recalled in 2013, “but you couldn’t necessarily get free art.”

 

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Clayton Ward, Prestwich Hospital, Manchester

Clayton Ward, Prestwich Psychiatric Hospital, Manchester, 1978

These pictures are about mental illness and the beginnings of what we now call ‘care in the community’.

In February 1978, I lived for two weeks with twenty long-stay psychiatric patients at Prestwich Hospital in north Manchester. Forgotten souls, most of them had been there for at least as long as I was old. I was twenty-six. Brought together from all over the hospital, these patients were guinea pigs in an experiment.

Encouraged by what psychiatrists had discovered from the application of post-war psychopharmacology and influenced by the behaviour modification theories of B F Skinner and also R D Laing’s ‘politics of experience’, psychologists at Prestwich established Clayton Ward. Here they instigated a token economy scheme.

The objective was to enable patients to live ‘out in the community’. First, though, they needed to learn how to behave in ways that would not upset or alarm people ‘on the outside’. A necessary prerequisite for a patient’s inclusion in this experiment was that he or she should have an addiction, in this case tobacco smoking. ‘Good’ behaviour — engaging in ‘verbal interaction’, making your bed, wearing a tie, tucking your shirt in and so on — was rewarded with tokens.

And you needed tokens to buy not just tobacco but also your food and drink.

 

[1] Williams, Val (ed). (1997) National Portraits: Photographs from the 1970s by Daniel Meadows. Salford: Viewpoint Photography Gallery, and Derby: Montage Gallery.

Williams, Val. 2011. Daniel Meadows: Edited Photographs from the 70s and 80sBrighton: Photoworks.

[2] Meadows, Daniel. (1975) . Living Like This: Around Britain in the Seventies. London: Arrow Books.

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All images above ©Daniel Meadows

David Walker – God is What I Make of Him

Here is the third post focusing on projects by David Walker’s.

God is What I Make of Him – David Walker

‘God is What I Make of Him’ Was a commission from Rochdale Art Gallery (Touchstones)

Eighteen places of worship covering fourteen denominations throughout the Rochdale area from Littleborough to Heywood. I was a representative of the Council, an outsider, a non-believer, and some would argue an intruder. The people I met were charming, helpful, and on the whole cheerful, but mostly what I found, and indeed what I came to photograph was a deep seated sadness and emptiness emanating from a dogged determination to defend their particular version of the truth.

The photographs were shown in DVD form on a 16ft screen with a music track by Aphex Twin. The presentation DVD package was designed by Christian Brett and the poem was devised by Steven Waling.

Talking Picture no. 15: Mrs Boxer Chandler—Daniel Meadows

Talking Picture no. 15: Mrs Boxer Chandler, a movie made by Daniel Meadows held as part of his archive at the Library of Birmingham.

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July 1974, Great Washbourne, Gloucestershire. This is the village where I was born and where my father spent his working life as agent to the Dumbleton Estate. I have returned in the Free Photographic Omnibus and am visiting Mrs Boxer, the village’s oldest resident.

Daniel Meadows

You can follow Daniel’s movies on Vimeo.

 

Talking Picture no. 14: Edward Wyndham Miller—Daniel Meadows

April 1974 from the Free Photographic Omnibus. Edward Wyndham Miller of the Sussex Brewery, Hermitage, Hampshire, talks about the goose gun he keeps in his cellar.

Daniel Meadows.

Talking Picture no. 14: Edward Wyndham Miller
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