The Scottish Post Office 1985 — David Williams

This selection of images is from the body of work commissioned by the Scottish Post Office in 1985 to celebrate the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the GPO. I adopted a humanistic approach to the project, seeking to portray the dedication of a range of the organisation’s employees as well as highlighting the importance of the Post Office to both urban and rural communities in Scotland. I had always been a great admirer of John Grierson’s film Night Mail (1936) and was proud to be commissioned in a similar manner to produce a piece of work based on the activities of the Post Office. 

The images were made mainly in Edinburgh and various locations in the West of Scotland. Throughout my travels, I encountered extraordinary kindness on the part of the employees and have very fond memories of the time I spent with them. I was deeply impressed by their commitment to their work and how such commitment contributed to the wellbeing of the wider community. No matter how remote the location, or inhospitable the weather conditions, one always had the sense that ‘the mail would get through’.

The project was never disseminated as planned and indeed never fully completed. The Scottish Post Office view was that the images were too ‘down-market’ for public consumption given the host of political pressures (related to possible privatisation) it was under at the time. My feeling was that as a commissioned artist as opposed to a commercial practitioner, I reserved the right to produce work which functioned outwith the immediate promotional concerns of the organisation. We agreed to differ and parted company just as I was about to embark on making portraits of employees in more managerial roles. Nevertheless, hopefully I still managed to produce an engaging body of work, supportive of what was a deeply impressive national institution. 

David Williams is Reader of Photography at Edinburgh College of Art.

All images and text © David Williams.

Talking Picture no. 39: Florence Alma Snoad by Daniel Meadows

This week's movie from Daniel Meadows is the 39th of 40. That means next week is the last...Then I suggest a day watching the lot and a trip to the Library of Birmingham to see the work it relates to, and all that surrounds it.

As Daniel posted on Facebook, "If there is one person's story that sums up the meaning of my bus adventure, this is it. Florence Alma Snoad is number 39 of the 40 movies I made to celebrate the acquisition of my archive by the Library of Birmingham. We are nearing the end."

Talking Picture no. 31: The Smoking Room by Daniel Meadows

The latest of Daniel's movie releases. Prestwich Hospital in Manchester and the then new, Clayton Ward. Great narration on this movie, a personal favourite!

On Thursday I will realise a book to accompany this movie, Clayton Ward 1978. This book is the final title in Daniel's Eight Stories series, which we've worked on over the past year.

The Daniel Meadows archive is at the Library of Birmingham,  ref. MS 2765

Talking Picture no. 31: The Smoking Room by Daniel Meadows

Pictures from No Man’s Land — David Williams

St Margaret’s School for Girls, Edinburgh 1984

In 1984 I undertook a six-month Artist-in-Residence commission at St Margaret’s School for Girls, Edinburgh. The commission was instigated by the school in collaboration with the Scottish Arts Council. 

Pictures from No Man’s Land, my first major project after having taken up photography in 1980, proved to be a pivotal experience for me and seems all the more so in retrospect. In the 30 years which have elapsed since its completion much has changed, both in the world of photography and the world at large. The school itself is now closed and single-sex private schools are less common in the UK. 

As Artist-in-Residence, my remit was to make work based on the school and to teach photography to a wide range of pupils within the school’s art department. Looking back, it was one the most challenging and intensive undertakings of my career, due in part to my lack of experience. I had to learn an enormous amount technically and in the area of social engagement as the project proceeded.  

In making the work, it was never my intention to comment on the pros and cons, political or otherwise, of the form of education represented by St Margaret’s. Rather, I sought to allude to the universal process whereby children grow into adolescents. The concomitant, inexorable shift from innocence to self-consciousness is referred to throughout, often by way of formal portraiture. The school and its inhabitants can be seen as a vehicle for the expression of this central theme rather than the subjects of overt socio-political commentary.

Overall, Pictures from No Man’s Land achieved considerable exposure, being widely exhibited and published although the accompanying book is now somewhat of a rarity. In some ways, again partly due to lack of experience, I was surprised at the attention it received. However, I was delighted when in 1989 it won the BBC Scotland 150 Years of Photography Award and equally so when Norman Parkinson described it as,  ‘…one of the most absorbing and informative visual records of the late 20th century’ (the List Magazine, issue 11, 1986).

David Williams is Reader of Photography at Edinburgh College of Art.

The Wall — Claire Atkinson

Last year I published Claire Atkinson's (no relation) Manchester 42 series. A documentary of travel; the same journey day after day, crossing Manchester by bus. Claire sent some recent work over for the blog. I actually quite like the 'ugly...hated' wall!

Over the past few years I've developed a strange fascination with this ugly wall in Manchester City Centre. 

Hated by fellow Mancunians and looked upon with a strange, disapproving curiosity by visitors, 'the wall' provides passers by with an unwanted, concrete backdrop to the slog of everyday life. 

Upon learning of the various petitions to get rid of it, and consequently of the commercial renovation plans for Piccadilly Gardens, I decided to spend more time photographing it before it disappears forever. 

Colin Shaw — Farmwork

Colin Shaw is a photographer based in the  Peak District. The text below is a recently edited version of the introduction to his book. The images are from the same series.

Growing up in a small Warwickshire village, it was impossible to ignore the day to day activities of farming. My memories of childhood are dominated by the freedom of a rural existence and the realities of living in an agricultural com¬munity: walking in meadows that had never been ploughed; watching the gangs of women with their prams, Wellington boots, headscarves and buckets waiting to go potato picking, then experiencing for myself the inevitable backache of the job; learning to drive a tractor; watching and trying hand-milking on a friend’s smallholding; helping to churn the cream to butter by hand, and enjoying the reward of fresh watercress sandwiches.

All of this was seasoned with the advice and country wisdom of my father. He started life as a farm worker in Lincolnshire; a steam traction engine was the first vehicle he ever drove. ‘Never walk across a ploughed field,’ he would say, ‘even if the footpath goes straight across the middle. . . always be wary of male animals, especially pigs!  ‘Never go in a field if a cow has just calved; they can be worse than bulls.’ My father left farm work because of low pay and the demands of a growing family. I never knew him when he was a farm worker, but his country wisdom remained and was a constant source of knowledge during my childhood.

During the 1950s it was not unusual for villagers to keep a ‘cottage pig’ and a few hens. My father was no exception and I well remember riding on the back of a huge Middle White called Sally. We watched her farrow and saw the piglets feed and grow; then they were gone. The day that Sally went, father was very upset; I remember the pots of home made brawn and cuts of meat in my grandmother’s kitchen. He never had another pig.

I enjoyed the regular trips to our field and always marvelled at my father’s skill. I remember watching as he carefully loaded eggs into an incubator and filled and lit the paraffin heater. I recall him explaining patiently that they needed warmth to hatch, and that the heat had to be carefully maintained.

With sadness we learned of plans to build a new village school on land adjacent to the field which was to be taken for the school drive. I always hated my time at that school! My father had lost his last real links with farming and by this time he was employed in a local car components factory. But even a rural secondary school has its compensations, I remember the fascination of watching a ewe give birth in a field next to the playground, and so conveniently at morning break.

Like most village kids, I worked on farms in the school holidays but never considered farming as a career. It would have been impossible to have grown up in such an environment and to have remained unaware of agriculture, but I can honestly say that it never seemed an attractive way of earning a living. Perhaps I knew too much.

It is easy to recount these experiences and produce an idyllic view of what ‘real’ farming was like, unlike today’s so-called agrochemical plunder of the land. But such memories rarely have space for the harshness of country life. As village kids we knew that animals were bred for meat, we knew that the all-pervading stink of the knacker’s lorry was part of life and we knew that working on farms was no holiday. Yet, when eventually I went to work in Coventry, I found that our country knowledge was not universal. ‘Where are you from then?’ asked one of my new colleagues. I named my village to which he replied, ‘So you’re a clod, why aren’t you working on a farm instead of coming here and taking our jobs?’

I quickly learned that there was a difference between ‘townies’ and ‘clods’, and that many people saw the countryside in a very different way. That there was a gulf between our life styles could not be denied, but I resented the implications of the label ‘clod’. I felt indignation at the suggestion that farm work was easy and fit only for the village idiot. I knew that people from my school had gone to agricultural college and that the received wisdom of my father was not that of a fool.

Later, as an undergraduate, I became concerned by the way that images of the countryside were used in the press and by advertisers. ‘Down on the farm’ is often a term of mild abuse or amusement, to be called a farm labourer a much used put-down. Such terms only serve to reinforce the growing gulf between farm and city.

I started the Farmwork project because I wanted to document the everyday life and work of farm workers. By using photography I wanted to make the work of farming more visible and, I hoped, challenge some of the romantic myths. I also wanted the photography to be as neutral as possible. I did not want to adopt a partisan stance, neither wishing to criticise nor promote farming. I felt that my limited exposure to the industry was helpful, but I knew little about modern agriculture, so the photography was preceded by a period of research and familiarisation with the arguments surrounding the industry.

Documentary photography implies some sort of neutrality and impartiality, but there are always choices to be made. I do not claim to have seen, or photographed, every aspect of British agriculture and I have obviously chosen what to photograph and what to leave out. I was not refused access to anything and was able to photograph anywhere I pleased. My approach was the well-known ‘fly on the wall’ technique. I wanted to be as unobtrusive as possible and never asked for particular scenes to be set up or staged for the camera. I feel that it is very important for photographers to explain what they are doing and why. All the people in the photographs knew why I was there. To have used any other approach would have seemed dishonest; even so I did experience some mis¬understanding. During one of my first trips I was threatened with physical violence by a group of potato pickers. This job has traditionally been the preserve of women, but the changing employment situation has led to many men joining the gangs. When I appeared on the field with a camera there was a considerable amount of disquiet. I learned some days after that local DHSS officials had been photographing gangs of casual workers and using the photo¬graphs as evidence in prosecutions.

During one of my first attempts to photograph harvest in action, a farmer came roaring across his field in a Range Rover, stopped close to me, jumped out and said, ‘You’re not from Friends of the Earth, are you?’ To which I replied ‘No’, and mentioned that I had phoned the previous evening to arrange the visit. He jumped back into the vehicle and sped away.

On the whole, the photography was very enjoyable and full of amusing incidents. I remember driving across to the west Wales coast to photograph the New Zealand ‘Golden Shears’ sheep shearing champion at work on a farm. It had rained during the night and the shearing was called off. On my way home I noticed a large flock of dry sheep in a roadside pen waiting to be sheared. I stopped and asked if I could photograph and the farmers agreed. Later, one of them asked if I was interested in photographing dipping; he explained that it would be after breakfast and that I was welcome to join them. We walked up the hill to the farm house. The men were shown into the kitchen and large pots of tea were produced. I was taken through to another room where there was a large table set with two places. The two farmers sat at either end and a sofa was drawn up for me. It must have been an amusing sight because I was seated considerably lower than the table which was at about chin height! It was a wonderful breakfast.

Most of these photographs were taken in 1985. By the end of that year I had travelled about 10,000 miles and produced nearly 12,000 negatives. Although West Midlands Arts had funded the photography and research, it became obvious that the project had grown much larger than originally envisaged, so I approached ICI Fertilizers for help with the production of two exhibitions and they agreed, seeing the project as low profile arts sponsorship. ICI Fertilizers and Farmwork won the award for best single project from the Association of Business Sponsorship of the Arts in 1986. 

Two exhibitions were produced, the first a large scale, framed exhibition of 80 prints and text aimed at galleries and arts centres. The second exhibition was intended to be shown at more informal venues such as village halls. It is designed to travel with its own portable display system to allow for showing in virtually any location. Both exhibitions toured from 1986 to 1991 and went to around 80 venues.

Project rationale

It seems to me that there are two quite different views of modern farming. It is seen as a romantic occupation, a bucolic way of life beloved by many, or it is thought of as a world full of the frantic roar of machinery and the headlong rush for higher and higher profits. The first image feeds on ideas of tradition and regret for the loss of simple rustic existence. The second is a reaction against European politics and stresses the folly of intensive farming and over-production. Both obscure the work and people in farming, the first by not permitting people to spoil the rural idyll and the second by not allowing them to intrude into macro-economics.

There is a high degree of physical isolation inherent in modern farming. Mechanisation has reduced the numbers working on the land and now crops seem to grow themselves. A quick glance through the window of a passing car or train confirm that little work is done in the countryside. It is possible to run an arable farm of 1000 acres or more with only three or four full-time workers who see little of each other during their working day. When such a small number of people are spread over a large area it is not surprising that their work is not very visible.

We see the countryside as a place to escape to from the pressures of urban life, a place associated with leisure rather than work. We idealise it as part of a past golden age and hark back to a time when people worked hard and played hard, when villagers were united as one, when there was a place for everyone and everyone knew their place. We obscure history to build an image of how things should have been rather than how they were.

Patterns of a ploughed field, the colours and texture of growing crops and the rural scene have long been subjects for artists. They depict the landscape but often ignore the human labour that produced it. Where work is allowed to intrude it is idealised, technology is seen as being in opposition to the ideal of rural work. The overall effect is to obscure labour; there is little human involve¬ment apart from the old rustic, the ‘character’, who is only there for decoration.
Advertisers project an image of farming as it existed before the application of modern techniques. By using a picture of someone reaping corn by hand or of horses ploughing, manufacturers hope that their product will be distinguished from the mass-produced competition. That the label bears little resemblance to the way the food are produced is of no interest to them.

But farming is about producing food, the food we buy in supermarkets or from the corner shop. We are given few clues as to its source; plastic wrappings shield us from those who picked the potatoes, pulled the onions, collected the apples and harvested the grain.

Whichever way you look, agriculture seems to be in the midst of some deep crisis. Nobody knows how great the crisis will be and few appreciate the human toll. There are many people relying on agriculture for their living; when a job is lost in the country it is often much more difficult to replace than one in town. The population of villages is changing rapidly. Now it is unusual to find a single farm worker in some villages.

There is constant talk of overproduction and of the rape of the land. Some people argue that the whole system must change; others say that market forces will dictate the shape of the industry. Either way, agriculture will survive; it has to because we need food. As an industry, it has experienced most of the crises facing other industries at the moment,  mechanisation, the introduction of new technologies and changing demand for its products. There is talk of a ‘new agriculture’, very different to the one that we know now, with fewer and fewer people employed on the land and economies of scale producing bigger and bigger machinery and more efficient processes. Perhaps then the rural myth will hark back to the days when people drove tractors, milked cows, tended sheep and grew crops. Rest assured, the myth will see this as a better time.
Work on modern farms will continue to be highly skilled, at times unpleasant, often backbreaking and always crucial to the needs of a modern society. It is safe to assume that agriculture will still rely on people; it is also safe to suggest that their work will be hidden from the majority of the population. I hope that Farmwork helps to challenge this obscurity and puts people back into the agricultural landscape.

© Colin Shaw 1988, updated January 2015.

Talking Picture no. 16: George Hepple — Daniel Meadows

George Hepple, a retired blacksmith from Haltwhistle, as featured in  Living Like This (Meadows, Daniel. 1975. Living Like This: Around Britain in the Seventies. London: Arrow.) . The Daniel Meadows Archive is in the Library of Birmingham.

Talking Picture no. 16: George Hepple hepple_thumbnail

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 5x4 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: 5x4 black and white and Set4: 5x4 colour.

Stephen McCoy

Demolition Sites”: 5x4 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”: 5x4 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 5x4 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.

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 bessie_wide_thumbnail

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. 02_bancroft_weaving_shed

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.



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


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."



James Nutter and Sons, Bancroft Shed, Barnoldswick


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.



The Engine House, Bancroft Shed


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.



Weldone Boiler Fluers


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.



Peter Tatham, Steeplejack


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?"



Pig Killing, North Yorkshire


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."



Welfare State International


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."



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