Shadows of the North Book Now On Sale!

DSCF2368It’s been a long time in the making, but I am proud to announce that I have finally got round to publishing a book to accompany the Shadows of the North exhibition! OK, so I’ve mistimed this quite spectacularly as the exhibition at Queen Street Mill is about to end*, but if you haven’t seen it there or at Helmshore then this is an expanded version of the exhibition, and arguably more compact.

Like the exhibition, the book is a wander through the battered and broken remains of the textile mills of Lancashire and West Yorkshire, as well as the surrounding landscape. David Plowden, one of my photographic inspirations, referred to his habit of being ‘one step ahead of the wrecking ball’, and to a large extent, this is something I also have the knack of, albeit with varying degrees of success.


The book is 70 pages in length and is exclusively black and white which may come as no surprise if you are familiar with my work. I have a limited numbers of books available in this initial batch of printed books, and I will order more if / when these sell out. Given the somewhat expensive prices charged by Blurb, I tend only to order any books from them when there is either a 40 or 50% off offer on, so any future batch will be sometime next year at the earliest.


Alternatively, if you are a millennial and shun printed matter (or live outside the UK), I have the book available as a downloadable PDF for £4.99. Be warned, it is a very large document! For a preview, please have a look at the 20 page preview PDF also on the store



DSCF2363The prices on the website are for UK shipping, please contact me if you are outside the UK.

*Truth be told, I did have plans for a Mechanical Landscapes book earlier in the year, and even have a print ready PDF, but everything that could possibly go wrong did do, so I took it as a sign that the universe was telling me that I want ready yet!


Buy it here: http://mechanicallandscapes.selz.com



#429 – Grafters Exhibition at People’s History Museum


On for one week only at the People’s History Museum in Manchester is a new exhibition, Grafters. The subtitle is ‘Industrial Society in Image and Word’ and it is curated by Ian Beesley with some accompanying poems by Ian MacMillan (who has previously provided poems for some of Beesley’s books).

The exhibition is split into 8 distinct areas – Beginnings, The Portrait, Industrialisation, A Unit of Scale, Self Representation, The Heroic, The Workforce and The Industrial Landscape, loosely following the evolution of industrial / industrial-social documentary photography (of which Ian Beesley is one of the best known practitioners). This gives some variety in the mix – from posed, official photographs, through to news images and social documentary.

The photographs of the contraction of the Manchester Ship Canal piqued my interest, primarily because I’d only ever seen similar published in small books. To see them printed large really gives an impression of the vast undertaking it was, especially given the fact that construction was not fully mechanised and thousands of navvies were still required during the construction.

But this exhibition is as much about the worker as their accomplishments, and the photos of the workforces at places that were about to close brought to mind the cliched management expression that remains fashionable -people are our greatest asset. I know that this is well meaning in its intent, but seeing the group photos of workers before they clock out for the last time reminded me that human labour is as much a disposable asset (or overhead) as any piece of machinery or building.

Cynicism aside, this is a great exhibition that is well worth a visit!


Not how I stage my exhibitions, but as the author and creator, I have full control of the printing, whereas these photographs are from many different photographers and the prints are a mix of original and reproduction.


Of particular interest was the Oldham panorama (above), and the immersive way in which it was displayed in an ante-room, although I’ll explore this further in a future post.


Humphrey Spenders Unemployed on Tyneside, 1936. I presume the very dark skies were the result of darkroom work, so as to create the mood intended by the photographer.


#428 – Rossendale Mills – Albert Mill, Haslingden 2


Haslingden. Someone once told me that there are only two types of weather in the East Lancashire town of Darwen – rain, or about to rain. In fairness, this is true of most of the East Lancashire mill towns, stuck in their little valleys or clung to hillsides.

From a monochrome photographers perspective this is a boon as it makes for interesting skies. Ok, so maybe I’m perpetuating some visual cliches here, but if such an indulgence is necessary to tell the story, then I’m happy to use them.

(And before the perfectionists tut, yes I know there is some fringing around the chimneys, these shouldn’t be on my finished prints hopefully).

Talk to Lancaster Photographic Society 3rd February 2016


My next talk is on Wednesday 3rd February at Lancaster Photographic Society (although it was originally advertised incorrectly on my websites as the 8th February).

Doors open at 7ish, meeting starts at 7.30 and I will be talking for 90 minutes or so about my photographs. The venue is Priory Hall, Castle Hill, Lancaster, LA1 1YN, and their website is http://lancasterphotographicsociety.org.uk/


#427 – Rossendale Mills – Albert Mill, Haslingden 1


Going east from the sun-drenched lowlands of Chorley where I reside, the landscape starts to quickly get hilly, and within the many valleys of the West Pennine Moors are numerous former mill towns. Haslingden is one although there aren’t many mills left here. Albert Mill and its characteristic north light windows are almost a landscape in their own right, while Winfields old mill sits astride the A56 bypass, on the edge of the moorland.

Of course, this doesn’t depict the actual scene that was in front of my eyes. Yes, the physical landscape and structures were as you see them, and the sky was transitioning from rain and fog through to sun which made for some dramatic light, but what you see in the above scene is my interpretation of the scene. In this interview, Michael Kenna he says:

“I prefer the power of suggestion over description. Photography, for me, is not about copying the world. I’m not really interested in making an accurate copy of what I see out there. I think one of photography’s strongest elements is its ability to record a part of the world, but also to integrate with the individual photographer’s aesthetic sense. The combined result is an interpretation – and the interpretation, I think, is what is interesting – when the subject goes through the filter of an individual human mind and emerges in a changed state – not the duplication or the recording of something.”

This is one of the joys of black and white photography, the stripping away of colour and choosing where you put the tonality to tell your own story.



#426 – Library of Congress Images – Steel Mill Panoramas

Tennessee Panorama

I’ve never worked in the steel industry but I’ve visited the steelworks at Redcar and Scunthorpe and it’s an industry that, as a photographer, continues to fascinate me. The sights, smells and sheer physical size and complexity of the plants are rivaled only by oil refineries. The American steel industry, like the British one is a fraction of the size it once was, but what’s left still eclipses almost every other country on the planet.Untitled_Panorama1

There are hundreds, if not thousands of photographs of the steel industry at the Library of Congress which maybe demonstrate both the extent and importance of the industry to a rapidly developing America in the early years of the 20th Century. This was a time when Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, started with nothing and built up a steelmaking empire that made him one of the richest men in the world – over $350 million dollars which he proceeded to give away in a philanthropic exercise that still has foundations and libraries in his name nearly 100 years after his death.

American Steel and Wire Company's plant, Cleveland, Ohio pano

Homestead Works (below) was Carnegie’s primary plant and was the scene of another bleak episode in American industrial relations when 10 people died during unrest caused by an industrial dispute in 1892.

Homestead Panorama

What is staggering is the scale of these places as they were all comparatively new at the time, but also the vast demand for iron and steel they were built to satisfy. The social consequences cannot be discounted as well, as this was a period of huge immigration and the knock on effect of that was the rapid expansion of towns and cities to accommodate the expanding workforces. The impact of this time can still be felt today with the closure of many of these plants resulting in large scale unemployment and related social issues especially in towns that were built to serve plants. But that’s another story!

#425 – Library of Congress Images – the night photography of Jack Delano

Illinois Central R.R., Chicago, Ill. Vernon Brower, riding the foot board of a diesel switch engine at the South Water Street freight terminal

I’ve featured quite a few of Jack Delano’s Library of Congress photographs on this blog over the last 18 months or so. Maybe it’s because he photographed subjects that I am interested in, but his photographs stand out for some reason. While some of the portraits of the railway workers on the Santa Fe and Chicago and North Western Railroad are clearly posed (the best candid photographs are always posed, a wedding photographer once told me), others are less obviously so and were probably done as a collaboration with the subjects who were carrying out their daily tasks. But they do have too much of a sense of occasion about them to be candids.

Santa Fe R.R. yards, Argentine, Kansas. Argentine yard is at Kansas City, Kansas

Chicago and North Western R.R., Mrs. Thelma Cuvage, working in the sand house at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa

This second selection (below) caught my eye though. Most railway photography is about the hardware – the locomotives, trains, the infrastructure and their place within the urban and rural landscapes where they are found. And of course, you will sometimes (occasionally) get some featuring people. This selection is not about any of these subjects. These are more abstract and are in my eyes about light and movement, They are created as a consequence of trains and people, but are not about trains and people. Or maybe I’m reading too much into them and he was simply killing time experimenting at the end of a shift or waiting for something to happen?

Interestingly, after the war Jack Delano moved into cinema, a route not uncommon for photographers including John Bulmer, a British Photographer who I will also be writing about at some point in the next 12 months.

Activity in the Santa Fe R.R. yard, Los Angeles, Calif. All switch lights, head lights and lamps have been shaded from above in accordance with blackout regulations. The heavy light streaks are caused by paths of locomotive headlights and the thin lines by lamps of switchmen working in the yard. Santa Fe R.R. trip

Illinois Central R.R., freight cars in South Water Street freight terminal, Chicago, Ill

View in a departure yard at C & NW RR's Proviso yard at twilight, Chicago, Ill.


#424 – Library of Congress Images – street running trains

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-Edit

I posted some Library of Congress photos of coal trains running through the streets last year. This is something I noted as being quite unusual in the UK. These are some more examples, and this appears to be a full blown express train.

Boston and Maine Railroad depot, Riley Plaza, Salem, Mass-Edit

This is idle speculation on my part, but I suspect that due to the way the railway opened up America, i.e. the railway was there first and towns grew up around them, this was perhaps more commonplace in the USA than in the UK, where the only incursion of railways onto streets tended to be at level crossings (tramways excepted). There were some notable exceptions of course such as the Weymouth harbour branch and the original Welshpool railway, and of course the Welsh Highland Railway now runs through Porthmadog, plus several other obscure minor railways but for the most part, road and rail rarely met*.

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-2-Edit

But none of these examples are heavyweight express trains. These depict the Empire State Express running through Syracuse in the early part of the 20th Century, and it looks to be quite a spectacle. Of course, road traffic 100 years ago was several orders of magnitude less than it is today which would have made the concept easier although I’m quite sure it was fraught with danger even in those times, where health and safety was at best an inconvenience and at worst non-existent.

But this kind of scene appears to have been not uncommon in bygone America (and may even perpetuate to this day for all I know?), as many towns grew up around the railway as the western expansion opened up previously uninhabited wilderness. contrast this with Europe where towns and villages pre-dated the railways and thus tracks in urban areas tended to be in cuttings, tunnels or embankments, only intruding on roads at level crossings where bridges were impractical.

O.Winston Link also captured some street running in one of this most famous pictures that I posted up a few years ago. The wide traffic free streets of the rural Virginia town photographed on a dark night in the 50’s are probably ideal conditions for running a large freight train through and a world away from a narrow European street which demonstrates why the concept is rare in Europe and the UK.


*Other examples that spring to mind are the largely disused railway network in Trafford Park, however, this was built as an integral part of the estate and from what I’ve seen of the remains, tended to run alongside the road network rather than sharing space with it. The Metrolink network in Manchester is a bit of a hybrid as it runs both on the streets and also along former Network Rail metals from Bury into Manchester city centre. I’m sure there are other examples, but nothing like what I’ve shown from America!