Tag Archives: Topographic

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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George Plemper – Thamesmead

George Plemper  worked in a then new Thamesmead; parts were still being constructed. A major Modernist development, a new society, new community, a problem solver perhaps. I’m interested in Brutalist and modernist architecture (and estates). How it can create and serve a community, how it functions generally and the unapologetic nature of the buildings and materials used in their construction.

George and I have released two books so far with two more coming in the new year, all archive work. The publication details follow this text from George, in response to me asking quite broadly, why he took these pictures.

“The camera and my love of photography came into my life uninvited” always comes to mind. By this I think that what I mean is that I was never that interested in photography and I bought a camera as a tool, in a vain attempt to rescue my failing teaching career. Of course, this quest was an abject failure but on a more positive note people liked my pictures and this encouraged me to do more.

A few years later I found myself in a Riverside School classroom with a camera in my hand. This time I was using photography as a teaching aid to reinforce my pupils’ sense of self and self-esteem.

One day around 1976 I was walking in St Martin’s Place, London and across the road I saw a poster of Paul Strand’s “Young Boy at Gondeville”; it stopped my world. Despite the distance I was stunned by the seemingly telepathic impact of the image and I never looked at a photograph in the same way again.  As my fascination with photography grew, the work of the early documentary photographers (Julia Margaret) Cameron, (Lewis) Hine, (August) Sander, and (Eugène) Atget took me to their own place in time. I have come to understand that the power of a photograph is not defined by technique, form or line and neither is a photograph a memory trace.

In my existence memories are ephemeral and insubstantial and a photograph is always physical and substantial.  The photograph provides an intuitive description of photographer’s experience of the world as it manifests to them. If we learn to look deeply, we can see through the photographer’s eyes, see what they saw, feel their presence in the world. This is what led me to take these pictures. They are a small testament to my existence on Earth.  Although it is true that I took the photographs, I do not want to be burdened with the label “photographer”.

Plemper’s photographs aren’t nostalgic. They are very much a record of time and a place – a new place. A new kind of place, untested and unknown. This series puts Plemper in the role of community photographer and documentarian. What is also apparent is that today these photographs would not be taken, and certainly not broadcast or published. A mix of paranoia, safety and hype would sterilise the work, perhaps making room only for generic, over-priced and badly lit mottled back-drop school photographs in which the child stares blankly over the photographer’s shoulder into the eyes of the ‘entertainer’ employed to make the child face forward.

This particular series, published recently by Café Royal Books in ‘Thamesmead and Abbey Wood 1977 – 1982’ is almost devoid of people. Topographic photographs , like Baltz and Adams, not the Bechas. However, the inclusion of the boys on the bridge disrupt and perhaps soften the architectural images of construction.

George Plemper’s Café Royal Books publications can be found here:
Sunderland and South Shields in the 1980s
Thamesmead and Abbey Wood 1977 – 1982

Thamesmead Riverside School 1976 – 1978 One will be released next week, 27.11.14, and part two early 2015.

All images © George Plemper.