I moved to Liverpool in late August with some excitement. As lovely as Chester is, it is perhaps a little too ‘nice’. It was rated one of the top five places to live in the UK (and for good reason), but when my girlfriend and I decided to make a home together, we ended up buying in Liverpool. It turned out to be the best fit overall for jobs, house prices and education, although we had initially assumed Chester to be the obvious choice, because the kids didn’t need to change schools.
I’d only visited Liverpool a few times, but knew the move would represent a paradigm shift. Chester is small. There are very few bad neighbourhoods. There are virtually no arts establishments, galleries or ‘grand structures’. There’s no real industry. In short, it’s a great place place to live, but wasn’t a rich environment for a photographer. Commercially speaking, it may be close to the big hubs; however, that isn’t the same as being one of the big hubs. Liverpool has the grime, splendour, scale, diversity and buzz of a major city. In short, it’s an exciting place to live no matter what you’re into.
Our new home is out to the west, on the very fringe of what is considered Liverpool. We’re close to the sea and, when travelling into the city, you can’t miss the docks. The area is steeped in history; it’s a mishmash of old Victorian era warehouses and factories interspersed with modern industrial structures and the odd pub and cafe. The first few times I drove past, my eyes were on stalks and some months later, the area still fills me with awe. There is a grandeur to many of the vast red brick buildings, with huge ships towering above shorter building in the foreground. Dirty, narrow side streets hide buildings bearing some of the most famous names in British industry, such as Harland and Wolff (builders of the Titanic and sister ships) and heavily rusted, massive cast iron doors close off long disused foundries. In from the water, it is largely deserted. There are no pedestrians and few cars, but instead a stream of trucks moving cargo. The pattern of life today is certainly busy, but it isn’t of the same kind, scale, or in quite the same locations as it was in the past. A few days ago, I decided to go and explore. I knew the docks would be the first area to visit, so I hopped on my bicycle and had a look. I took a camera (XT2, with 18-55 and 10-24mm lenses) and took a number of photos, returning the next day on foot to see a little more. Bikes are a great way of getting an overview, but walking gives much more time to absorb the little details.
At this stage, I have no idea what I am going to do, although I do have some fledgling ideas in my mind. I took a similar approach to pretty well all my projects in the beginning. It can take a little time for me to fully understand what is drawing me to a place and grasp how to translate that into a photographic series that is both coherent and visually appealing. During my ‘Great Disappearance of August 2017’, I did become a little worried at my lack of creative interest. However, I have been there before and knew I was just frazzled and needed to recuperate, after which my creative energy would come back (and it has). I don’t need to know exactly what I am going to do at the docks to know this, only to feel the eagerness to return once again with camera in hand.
During my 2-3 hours there, I took quite a lot of photos, some of which are here for you to see. I tend to find that ‘scouting photos’ are very useful. No matter what we have in our heads, there is no substitute for seeing photos to help shape where we want to take things. The visit on foot also helped me understand where I might like to seek access. I can already see that I will probably need more extensive access to non-public right of way areas to fully understand what I want to do. For now, I was just happy taking snaps of whatever caught my eye and feeling the buzz. The place has power and could perhaps be described as a little unsettling, in the same way as it feels when wandering around a disused quarry, surrounded by massive rocks and metal machinery. I think this feeling is at the core of a lot of the work I do. There is often a sense of the forbidden, the inaccessible, or intimidating. In a digital age, where many urban areas are surprisingly clean, the docks have a rawness to them, but it is undoubtedly their relationship to the surrounding communities – the people, housing and businesses – and the impact of time that most interests me.
Let’s see where it goes. I only moved to Chester in March 2016, so I don’t think I will be moving again anytime soon. Besides, that was the house move from hell, so anytime in the next ten years would be too soon. Oh, and before I sign off, looking around the docks reminded me of somewhere unexpected: Iceland. The two have nothing in common aesthetically, but there is something in the relationship between order and chaos (and space) that brought Iceland to mind.