Cammell Laird Shipyard, Birkenhea by Tom Wood
Negatives of Work Undertaken in the Cammell Laird Shipyard prior to the Commission c12/3
Tom Wood deposited these negatives and their corresponding contact sheets on completion of the D.P.A. commission in May 1997. Once again the information that accompanies these negatives was compiled in May 1997. Audrey took notes as Tom made comments while looking at the contact sheets.
This body of material was shot at the Cammell Laird Shipyard in 1993 prior to the work on the commission. I went in there a couple of days a week for about six months. I probably spent about twice as much time on the work then, as I did on the D.P.A. commission.
I initially went into the yard in 1992. I worked then in black and white taking probably eighty to one hundred rolls. I was satisfied with virtually nothing from this work. I partly used black and white because I was exploring and getting little or nothing so it was economical. Most of the early work was taken in the yard with the cranes and docks. It was very difficult to bring it all together. It all looked really good but it didn't make a picture. All the time I was accompanied by a minder from VSL, a nice man, but it made things difficult. They were working then on warships and submarines and I was not allowed on these.
I heard they were closing down so I wrote to the director and he O.K.ed things. Earlier approaches to the men below him had been unsuccessful. Cammell Lairds had been a major employer in Birkenhead so I had always been aware of the yard being there.
I got there, and there was nothing and the weather was freezing. My minder died soon after his retirement.
I converted to colour in 1993. I was working then with Paddy Shenahan. Paddy was looking for an excuse to be away from his family, so would come up for a week at a time. He was using 5 x 4. We would work there everyday. He had a car so it made things easier. It was a discipline thing. By this time more men had left and it was even more deserted. I had no minder now. I could explore physically as well as photographically. I would go into the workshops. There were only a few men where once there had been dozens. Because there were only a few with little to do they wanted to talk. I tended to make portraits, very simple portraits, using a Mamiya RB 6 x 7 as well as my Mamiya Press 6 x 9, a range finder camera. So I used a long lens on the RB, 180 for the portraits. I could do a picture just of a head and nothing else and fill the frame. These guys would talk to me; they were probably leaving that week and I would make as honest a portrait as I could without any sentimentality. I used available light and usually a one second exposure.
I had tried to get into the yard in the 1980s but without success. But I only made phone calls. When I did go in, it was disappointing. Dead, the death of a shipyard. Loss of skill, generations of skill. They were the first to make iron ships; all the ships they built during the war; everything about the whole place and its history. There was sadness and bitterness. The men felt they were being sold down the river by the government. They were arguing for so long - the Campaign to Save Cammell Lairds. I really wanted to photograph people making ships, but this was just mickey mouse stuff. Most of the men were just hanging around waiting to go. So it was a disappointment, but I thought I must make something of it.
[The numbering sequence of these negatives preserve's Tom's original numbering. There are gaps in the sequence. There are a total of 32 negative sheets.]
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