Category Archives: Assignment 1 Support

Photography and Connection –

Back in July 2014 I visited an exhibition called Beyond the Border. I gave it a brief and inconsequential write up in my Documentary blog but like so many of these things it is only later that something of import pops back to the surface. The blog post makes a quick reference to the idea that some of the photographers at least were using photography as a way to reconnect to their roots. In particular my contemporaneous notes draw attention to Anthony Sutton-Hibbert’s “Edge of Empire” and a comment he made about using the project to reconnect after 10 years abroad.

This idea intersects in my mind with some of the written notes from Hatakeyama’s ‘Terrils’ project…in particular his discussion says that “…it is impossible for me to appreciate fully what was once here but is here no more.”

In my opening discussions with my tutor I said that I felt the old blast furnace sites I’m photographing deserved some memorial, which they appear not to have currently. His challenge was “Who is asking for a memorial?” and my initial response was no-one – which felt wrong to me. But perhaps it’s me that is calling for the memorial. Perhaps I am using my photography and my imagination to extend my memory into a past I did not experience.

I’m not a native of Cumbria…in fact it’s hard to argue I’m a native of anywhere, but I’m beginning to wonder if this project, and some of the projects I did in Landscape and Documentary aren’t my way of forcing some roots in to a location I now call home. 

Another day…another location

Making use of another weather window to make another reconnaisance trip. First off the two primary locations and perhapos the easiest to locate as they are still being cleared. First up Moss Bay…the blast furnaces here disappeared underneath a steel rail plant, which is now largely cleared away.

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A little further north on the same site we have the old Derwent blast furnaces.

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This site actually features an old blast furnace core which I’ll provide a picture of a little later. Further north still is New Yard, a much smaller site…struggling to identify the actual location of the furnace which is now hidden under a new industrial estate.

Finally a location that I’m not quite sure about. Don’t have much evidence for the existence of a furnace at this particular location, but I’ve seen it hinted at so including it here for completeness. It is currently a set of workshops and manufacturing facilities located just off Havelock Road in Workington.

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As I gather these together I’m starting to wonder precisely what it is I want to do with them, and prhaps more importantly what I want to say or why they interest me so much..musing on this will be the body of my next assignment related post I think.

More blast furnace locations than you can shake a stick at…

The weather has not exactly been conducive to trips out shooting of late, but I took advantage of a gap in the weather window to do a couple more blast furnace locations. I’m using the Industrial History of Cumbria website as the primary source for the locations and concentrating on the coke only furnaces at present. That said, their references do appear to need cross checking as some are clearly incorrect…the following resource from the National Library of Scotland is proving helpful in relating the locations to current topography and geography, especially the OS 6” map 1888-1913.

This rather damp industrial estate was previously the site of the Solway Iron Works (1871-1927) and now hosts SiS Systems, the local recycling facility (aka dump) and sundry other small industries.

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Just around the corner is a rather more enigmatic location – Gilmour’s (1868-92). There’s no real indication on the map to hint where it actually was – although there is a Gilmour Street in the vicinity, so I’ve gone with the website location in the absence of other evidence.

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The weather was rather kinder the following day, though I’m going to have to think carefully about the lighting and its impact of the consistency of the images. This green patch is the home of the Harrington Iron Works (1857-1926) and it was taken from the top of what appears to be another slag bank, looking north across the site towards the probable location of the furnaces themselves.

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An introductory chat with my tutor

Well, after some delay…all of my doing I hasten to add… I have managed the recommended introductory chat with my tutor, which proved to be very usefully challenging.

The headline conclusions I’ve taken away are:
  • The brightly coloured artefacts seems like an artistic dead-end – fun but not obviously serious in intent – unless some kind of alternative lighting makes an impact. I think I knew this, but they are very pretty and this was swaying my affection for them.
  • The “presence of absence” shots of ex-blast furnace sites need some thought to work out how to contextualise the ideas – whether this is through visible remnants, supporting texts/maps/clippings of some kind. the key concern is how to show the absence. This may become more obvious as the series progresses.
  • If what attracts me about the artefacts is their link to the past then I need to establish a link with age in some way – either directly or through the slag banks. If I want to monumentalise them, I need to work out why, and again how I contextualise them.
In a nutshell, I need to work out more effectively what I’m trying to say and how my images say that.

Another Location

The weather was far from promising today…and the tide was sufficiently far in that beach-combing was out of the sensible question. I did however pop into another blast furnace location…just down the road in Maryport. Currently it’s occupied by the Co-op!

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Round behind and about 2/3 of the way up towards the terraces there are some old brick walls and other structures, which are possibly remnants of the original coke ovens.

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Making a start

The course notes for level 3 say that I shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about what I want my final project to be about…but that I should go out and start shooting.

With this in mind, and given that I have several ideas for the project, I was already on to that before the notes arrived. I’m planning to continue my exploration of Cumbria’s iron and steel making past although precisely how is still to be decided.

My starting thoughts cover a range of ideas, from imaging old steel working sites as they are now through to detailed images of the various artefacts and samples I recover on my visits to these locations. I need to be a little disciplined at this point or I shall have 1000 ideas and no progress.

With this in mind here are a couple of stepping off points:

Artefacts
I have some early ideas about very large images of the artefacts which wash out of the slag banks. Why very large? Because it reveals the detail of the surface..the impacts of ageing and the slow dissolution of the iron/steel by the elements.

I’ve already done some tinkering with close-up images and stitching software to produce a large high definition image – which was more successful than I expected. I’m already at a point where I could print this disc at 20” diameter…around 15-20 times life size. I’m wondering how to get to twice that. The right hand image is a full size snippet from the large image.

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More examples of these a can be found on my website: here

Colours
This one I’m not quite so sure about. It comes under the category of happy accidents. While fiddling with the clarity, contrast and saturation settings in Lightroom I discovered that the very subtle colours of the beach stones, and the somewhat less subtle colours of the iron wastes suddenly become very dramatic and abstract. It’s difficult not to fall in love with them as they’re so different, but whether I want to take them forward, or just use them as light entertainment, I’m not yet sure.

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Sites
This one is inspired by Hatakeyama’s ‘Terrils’ – images of old slag heaps left over after the closure of coal mines in Belgium. My thought is to identify the sites in Cumbria that have previously hosted blast furnaces – there are around 20 – and photograph them as they are now. Despite the foul weather I went out to day for a short recce to see what I could see nearby. One thing I discovered is that I’m unconvinced by some of the grid references for locations I’ve found but I did get to see four locations:

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This one is looking towards one of the two sites north of the River Derwent at Oldside on the edge of Workington.

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This one is the other side of the railway track from pretty much the same location as the one above, and the site of another set of furnaces.

EB081145This is the retaining wall of the Lowther steel works on the edge of the Workington harbour area.

EB081148And this one is one of the earliest locations, at Barepot, near Seaton. Accessibility may be an issue here.

That’s all for the moment…a start has been made.