Founded in 1997 the Pingyao International Photography Festival is China’s most prestigious photo festival, featuring images from more than 50 countries each year in indoor and outdoor venues across the UNESCO-listed ancient city. This year it includes a huge exhibition called Distinctly, which is curated by Open Eye Gallery’s Tracy Marshall and which will travel to Merseyside in 2019 as one of the main exhibitions of LOOK International Photo Biennial.
Featuring work by 12 documentary photographers – Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Daniel Meadows, John Myers, Markéta Luskačová, Tish Murtha, Ken Grant, Paul Seawright, Niall McDiarmid, Robert Darch, Elaine Constantine, and Kirsty MacKay – the exhibition “takes a unique approach to the depiction of Britain and its distinct landscapes, industries, social and economic changes, cultural traditions, traits and events” over the last six decades says Marshall. “The exhibition looks at the gentle, the humorous, the starkness, the beauty, and the realities experienced and captured by the photographers around their lives living and working in Britain,” she adds.
“I was the first to move to New Brighton, and it was by sheer chance,” says Tom Wood. “I studied fine art part-time [a Fine Art Painting BA at Leicester Polytechnic], then went back to the car factory where I had worked before. Then I found a job as a photo technician at the poly [now Wirral Metropolitan College, where he went on to teach], and we moved there in September 1978.”
Thus began a golden age for photography in New Brighton, which lasted until 2003 when Wood moved to his current home in North Wales. In the intervening 25 years, Ken Grant also lived in New Brighton from 1992-2002, studying for a spell at Wirral Met, and Martin Parr was based just 20 minutes away from 1982-1985. Between them the three photographers created a huge body of work on the seaside town, which is based just across the River Mersey from Liverpool in North England.
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.”