Monday 22 October 2012

The Great Money Trick

Liverpool City Council commissioned local artist David Jacques to produce this artwork as part of the City of Radicals programme in 2011. It is inspired by Robert Tressell's socialist novel 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists'. Tressell, who died in Liverpool in 1911, was a house painter and signwriter. The Great Money Trick is a key chapter in his political novel. Jacques' Dale Street awning pays tribute to Tressell by creating the lettering in century old signwriter style.

Saturday 20 October 2012

'Tinned Up' Anfield

I recently visited a few of the Victorian terraced streets near to Liverpool's football stadium which are scheduled to be demolished as part of the Anfield and Breckfield Regeneration scheme ('creating neighbourhoods for the future'). Once levelled they will disappear beneath the large housing estate that is currently being constructed over the graves of recently demolished neighbouring streets.

This is no.154 Hartnup Streer. Six months ago the bay windows of Hartnup Street were given a makeover with scenes of Liverpool captured by students from Alsop High School. The idea was to make the street look more pleasing for the April 2012 Sea Odyssey spectacular. It was hoped that the large crowds following the the Little Girl Giant, her Uncle, and faithful companion Xolo as they pass through Anfield wouldn't be offended by the shabby dereliction that is Hartnup Street. The photos are still there (Oct 2012) but I was told by one local that the street only has a couple of weeks left before the bulldozers appear!
Hartnup Street becomes a photo gallery to welcome the giant puppets.

Granton Road, bathed in autumn sun, looks too good to demolish (was refurbishment never a viable option for these houses?). 
I've wandered through several 'regeneration' areas of Liverpool where whole streets have been emptied and 'tinned up'. One familiar sound breaks the silence in all of these places. It's the hopeless 'cheep' of a smoke alarm - calling to a long departed occupier to replace the battery. Somehow that seems so sad!

Monday 6 August 2012


Learning often comes unexpectedly. Recently I was wandering through the ‘Welsh Streets’ in Liverpool’s Toxteth district. Because of my interest in social documentary and heritage I have spent many hours with my camera walking around the silent streets of ‘tinned up’ houses in Liverpool 8. This is one of several areas in the city where a whole community has been cleared of residents, their properties having been compulsory purchased in preparation for demolition – all part of the council’s grand regeneration plan.

Madryn Street as a poetry and songbook!

One of the ‘Welsh Streets’ is Madryn Street where Ringo Starr was born. (There is still some debate about whether no.9 should be preserved as a national treasure!) I noticed that most of the small terraced houses along Ringo’s side of Madryn Street have had sheets of song lyrics / poetry pasted onto their sealed up doors and windows. Most of the lyrics are entirely appropriate (Ghost Town, Anthem for Doomed Houses, We Shall Not Be Moved etc.) resulting in the whole street becoming a cultural installation. I photographed several of them before the sun, wind and rain hides their messages.

 One of the poems was called ‘The Day They Came for Our House’. The prose included “Armed with bulldozers / they came to do a job / nothing more / than hired killers”. The poem was credited to Dan Mattera – that’s all I knew from the photocopied sheet of lyrics - so I educated myself later in the day. It  was written about the clearance and obliteration of Sophiatown in the 50s and early 60s in South Africa. Sophiatown was a vibrant, urban, multi-cultural community – one of the oldest black suburbs of Johannesburg. Under apartheid, it was cleared, demolished and rebuilt as a white suburb (renamed as Triomf). The township had been famed for its culture of writing, art and music – notably jazz and blues. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu were both Sophiatown residents. 

Don Mattera ('Dan' is a misprint) was an activist in the struggle against apartheid but he subsequently became a poet, writer and journalist. ‘The Day They Came for Our House’ was published in Mattera’s book ‘Azanian Love Song’ in 1983. To my shame I didn’t know the history of Sophiatown and hadn’t read any of Mattera’s books or poetry until I researched these things when I returned home. I’m glad I did – the shameful story of racial clearances in South Africa is something that we should all know about. Sometimes learning comes from unexpected sources – in this case my walk down Ringo’s old street resulted in my learning about 50yr old events from 6000 miles away!

Wilfred Owen's 1917 poem - 'Anthem For Doomed Youth' reworked for condemned housing

Thursday 24 May 2012

The Missing Years

If you take a look at any social documentary photography before the late 1980s you will see images of children playing in the streets with bikes, carts, skipping ropes etc - reflecting the way they spent their leisure time within their own environment. This is important documentary information. Sadly, in this age of exaggerated fear for our children's safety, we have now made it unacceptable for photographers to record them in their surroundings. In the coming years we will find that we have lost a huge amount of information about how our children and their friends played and entertained themselves in their own neighbourhoods. The Facebook age will have recorded plenty of camera-phone images of children in the safety of their family surroundings, but little of the documentary material that previous generations of photographers have recorded.

This photograph was taken last week when I was returning to my car in Jamaica Street, Liverpool after a day in the city with my camera. I love the old warehouses in the area and when I saw two boys racing towards me on their bikes I thought it might be a chance for a vintage shot. Not wanting to alarm the children I had to 'shoot from the hip' - with my heavy DSLR this usually results in dismal failure, but on this occasion I got fairly lucky. I converted the image to B/W in order to recapture a feel of 60s Liverpool. It might not be great photography but it's social documentary and I'm happy with it!

Sunday 25 March 2012

Fishing the Float #2

East Float Dock, Birkenhead. This is a revisited location - see my entry for 7th Nov, 2010 ( The children keep themselves amused whilst the father is fishing. I noticed the girl swinging on the chain fence and thought it would make a good composition. I had to be quick before I was noticed.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Canning Nightscapes

This view across Liverpool's Canning Dock is looking towards the Albert Dock - a hugely popular tourist attraction. The Maritime Museum is on the right (Tate Liverpool is also housed in these wonderful old dock warehouses).  I was looking for a night shot of the nearby Museum of Liverpool from this location but felt that this would also make an effective 'nocturne'. I waited a few minutes for the wheel to stop (left of frame) and hoped that it would be static for the 20sec exposure. Long exposures at night often produce peaceful scenes - as is the case here. There is a sense of unreality - this could almost be a model.  (f18, ISO 400)

This is a view of the new Museum of Liverpool, also viewed from the Canning Dock. The waterfront museum was opened last year (2011).  It may not be everyone's idea of great architecture but it looks good at night! This was a 30 sec exposure at f14 (ISO 100)