The photographer known as Photie Man is back with a series of images shot in Liverpool in the 1970s and 80s, now on show in France and travelling to Open Eye Gallery next year
As a young man in the late 1970s and 80s, Tom Wood regularly found himself among the crowds waiting for the ferry at Liverpool’s Pier Head. Commuters weary after a long day’s toil, elderly couples gazing out at the Mersey in comfortable silence, teenage girls sporting shell suits, hair swept into side ponytails. “There were always loads of people at the Pier Head because it’s a terminus for the whole of Merseyside,” Wood says.
“Coming home I’d find I’d just missed a ferry. You’ve got at least 20 minutes to wait for the next one so what do you do? You take pictures.”
Now some 70 of Wood’s photographs of the Pier Head, shot between 1978-2002 and never previously exhibited, have gone on display at the Centre Photographique at Le Pôle Image Haute-Normandie as The Pierhead – L’Embarcadere, 1978-2002, part of a mini season of shows. Previous exhibitions by Stephen Gill, Michael Wolf and Eamonn Doyle also focused on very small geographical areas – the latter just two streets, explains the exhibition’s curator, Raphaëlle Stopin.
“I was interested in that aspect of going back and forth to the same place,” she says. “What also touched me in Tom’s work is that they feel like family portraits, but they’re all passers by.”
Shot in between times, on Wood’s way to and from other projects, The Pierhead was never conceived of as a series at the time. “If I was going, say, to photograph Kirby in the outskirts of Liverpool I’d have my big Linhof camera and tripod with me that day, I might make some portraits on that,” says Wood.
“I just responded to the people. The sense of humour and the energy. It’s a dynamic place, and an edgy place as well. Because a lot of the pictures were taken in the 1980s it reflects the type of pictures you see in Photie Man,” he continues, referencing the work published by Steidl in 2005. “I’d do posed portraits on large format, I’d do candid work, black-and-white, colour.”
As time passed, this organic body of work reached a natural conclusion, he explains. “When I began in the 1970s people would be going to work on the ferryboat. Over the years it became a tourist thing. That’s why I stopped photographing. The atmosphere had gone.”
The images only came to light when Jérôme Sother, director of Gwinzegal, started exploring Wood’s archive, and noticed the Pier Head as a recurring theme. Prior to this exhibition, Wood had made a just a few silver gelatin prints of the images, but the vast majority of shots on show went to France as scans – so it’s not just the first time they’ve been shown publicly, it’s also the first time he’s seen many of them printed. Next year Édition GwinZegal will publish The Pierhead as a book, and the work will be exhibited at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool.
It’s not the only series that’s emerged after the event in Wood’s work – this year he’s also publishing books on elderly people, mothers and daughters, and car boot sales, among others, all themes which have emerged after the event when he’s trawled through his archives. Like The Pierhead, putting together these series was arduous, he says, but ultimately very rewarding.
“I had to go through all the contact sheets, which was a nightmare – in [a given] day I could just have one picture from the ferry,” Wood says “But it’s also like Christmas – you get little presents that you’re not expecting.”
The Pierhead – L’Embarcadere, 1978-2002 by Tom Wood is on show until 27 May 2017 at the Centre Photographique, Pôle Image Haute-Normandie, Rouen, and moves to Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool next year. www.poleimagehn.com/photographie