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Twenty years of photographing a bus journey
This week: 50 years of photographer Tom Wood, why did Agatha Christie pretend to be dull?, fabrics traced across continents and centuries, Larry Achiampong's first major solo show
IT’S the mid-90s and you’re on the bus in town. Nothing unusual about that. The same old route, maybe even some faces you’ve seen before. But this time is different. There’s a man with a camera on the bus next to yours and he snaps your picture through the grimy window. It’s weird, sure, and - as this is the time before camera phones and constant selfies -you might even mention it to a few people. But that moment, frozen in time on a strip of negatives, soon fades from your memory.
Three decades later, on the wall of the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, are the words: "‘What’s more conceptual than spending twenty years photographing a bus journey that should take twenty minutes?’ It’s a quote from Tom Wood, whose work is the subject of an new retrospective at the gallery, and who was the photographer on the bus, on many, many buses, all those years ago.
They’ve become encounters with a lost era - nostalgic yet palpable
With 40 years experience, Wood is one of Britain’s most celebrated photographers, but he is also a collector. He traps moments with a click of the shutter, freezing them in time while the rest of the world moves on. At time they were taken, they were ordinary moments - moments that of course took skill and a talented eye to capture, but nonetheless typical of whatever scene he was focused on at the time. Holidaymakers at New Brighton seaside, commuters on the bus, teenage couples snogging in a nightclub. But the passage of time has given them a touch of the exotic. They’ve become encounters with a lost era - nostalgic yet palpable.
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Born in County Mayo, Ireland, in 1951, Wood moved to Oxford as a young child and then to Leicester to study painting at the polytechnic from 1973-76. He bought his first camera in 1973. In 78, he moved to Merseyside, where he lived until 2003, becoming a familiar face and earning the nickname ‘Photie Man’.
It was a period of great social change, captured by Wood in a style that is credited with redefining how we think about photography in Britain. He used colour to depict ordinary people going about their lives, at a time when it tended to be used for fashion photography and artists favoured black and white.
As well as his pictures of Merseyside, the Walker exhibition includes photographs taken elsewhere in the UK, including a sandwich shop taken in ‘Sheffield or Leeds’ in 1974. An expressionless woman - a customer or the shopkeeper? - stands in front of a sign that beams 'cheerfully: ‘Have a glass of milk with your sandwich’.
There are also vintage photographs that Wood began collecting while still at school and some of his experimental film work. Also striking is a series taken at Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead, which at that point was struggling to survive.
And then there are the captions, which hint at a bigger story behind the images. ‘Couple with new baby (actually their first day out without the baby) accompanies a posing man and woman whose eyes hint at exhaustion. Seaview Cafe (Not many Saturdays off) belongs to an unamused family of four nursing a pair of empty tea cups. Is there an air of desperation about their rare day out together or are they simply used to being photographed by a stranger? It’s left to each of us to guess.
Photie Man: 50 Years of Tom Wood is at the Walker Art Gallery until January 7, 2024. Tickets are £9 adult, concs available, here.
This week we’re also buzzing about…
An Audience with Lucy Worsley on Agatha Christie: Why did the world’s best-selling crime writer pretend to be a typical Edwardian lady of leisure when in reality she loved fast cars, went surfing and was fascinated by psychotherapy? Historian Lucy Worsley answers this question on the second tour of her live illustrated talk this autumn, which stops off at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle, The Lowry in Salford Quays, Kendal Leisure Centre and Harrogate’s Royal Hall. Book here.
British Textile Biennial: The spaces left behind by the Lancashire cotton industry will be transformed by international artists tracing the routes of fibres and fabrics across continents and centuries. The programme has now been revealed and includes an installation about ‘slave cloth’, manufactured here and worn by millions of slaves in the Caribbean and America, displayed in a chapel built partly by its proceeds. Runs from September 29 - October 29. More details here.
Larry Achiampong Wayfinder: The British-Ghanian artist’s first major solo exhibition includes his feature-length film Wayfinder (2022), which follows a girl’s journey from Hadrian’s Wall to Margate during a pandemic. Other works include his multi-disciplinary Relic Traveller project (2017–ongoing) alongside sculpture, photographs, video and a gaming room. It’s at Baltic, Gateshead, until October 29. More details here.
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The next edition of Stored Honey will be sent on Friday instead of Thursday for one week only to give me time to check out the Liverpool Biennial previews and share my favourite exhibits with you.
Have a great week,