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PHOTOGRAPHY Tellingly true to life

Tom Wood's photographs are a unique record of a hard working-class existence on Merseyside over two decades, says JOHN GREEN

101 Pictures by Tom Wood
(RRB Photobooks, £45)

THIS beautifully produced book of 101 photos by Tom Wood provides a unique insight into the photographer’s work.

Selected by Matthew Parr, Wood’s photos were taken in Liverpool and Wirral between 1978 and 2001, with most of them captured within a 10-minute walk of his Wallasey home, and they show families, couples and individuals inhabiting the streets, pubs, workplaces, parks and markets.

Known by locals as the “photie man,” his regular presence allowed him to become an accepted part of the social landscape and to capture everyday life as only someone in that position can.
Wood's photographs portray exclusively working-class people and their families. What is striking, though, is that not a single one of those captured in the 101 photos is laughing — there is not even a genuine smile.

Whether young or old, everyone looks worried. They are viewing the world as a place of adversity and the older individuals have heavily-lined faces, scarred by stress and hardened by the struggle to survive. There is an absence of reflected happiness or genuine pleasure.

It makes you realise how, despite living in a wealthy country like Britain, the working class — particularly in the north — has never really experienced anything of that wealth, not even the crumbs of it.

These are portraits of a people leading circumscribed lives, trapped in deprivation and cultural poverty.

The book highlights Wood’s experimentation with various types of camera and film, print papers and textures and demonstrates his skill as a photographer in colour too. This experimental approach was partly due to cost, as occasionally he had to use out-of-date film stock, but the results reveal an imaginative visual interpretation of his subjects and his use of medium formats brings out a wealth of visual information during the printing process.

Photographs in the book include those from his most well-known series, including All Zones, Off Peak and Bus Odyssey, shot over a period of 18 years as Wood travelled across Liverpool by bus – he doesn’t drive  – usually during off-peak hours, sitting among the morose passengers.

His images capture a city in motion, from the crowds at bus stops to the introspective passengers, along with the views of the urban landscape from the elevated perspective of the bus window from the top deck.

Images from Looking for Love, shot on busy nights at the now demolished Chelsea Reach disco pub in New Brighton in the early 1980s depict the intimacy and uninhibited drunken boisterousness of the club’s clientele.

And there is less familiar work from his long-term projects, including  photographing the residents of Rainhill Hospital.

All in all, a unique and quirky historical document of a specific area.

 

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