A couple of weeks ago I presented a panel of 15 images to the Royal Photographic Society and I have been awarded an Associate Distinction making me an Associate member of the Society. I feel very honoured.
The distinction was the culmination of a project I have been working on for some time. A project totally out of my comfort zone which has stretched me creatively and photographically. Imerys, the company behind the china clay mining business in Cornwall gave me hard hatted, hi vis, escorted access to the docks and other abandoned clay sites in Cornwall. I am very grateful to Imerys for their help in creating this project.
For many years, china clay blasted from the hills above St Austell with water canon was pumped in suspension to Par Docks where it was stored in huge concrete silos before being dried and loaded aboard ships for export around the world but in 2006, it was announced that the docks would close along with the loss of 800 jobs.
One of my earliest memories is paddling in the sea at Par, sinking up to my ankles in sand mixed with china clay, the result of spillages from the docks. I was only two so this place has been a part of my consciousness for 48 years, I wanted to mark its passing with this project.
The panel I presented in the Contemporary category to the Royal Photographic Society is about my sense of loss and sadness that this closure evoked; my choice of processing served to emphasise the decline and abandonment. Once a hive of industry, the docks now just echo with the past and only its ghosts remain.
On a site once teeming with people and activity, wagons no longer run along their steel tracks. The vast sheds and huge silos stand empty, their machinery rusting slowly. The café with its strings of bunting still poignantly clinging on, hoping for better times, no longer serves its burgers and chips.
For seaman who needed spiritual guidance with their coffee, a welcome once awaited them at the flying angel club, but this too stands empty. The harbour office no longer takes enquiries and the phone box outside no longer makes calls, it stands at a drunken angle, its door long gone.
In my central image, the cross in the concrete suggests to me the need for an epitaph… ‘rest in peace’ perhaps?
I’m grateful to Imerys, the company responsible for china clay mining in central Cornwall, for providing escorted, hard hatted, hi vis access over an extensive period to what is now a closed demolition site in order to produce the panel.
When presenting a panel candidates are required to prepare a hanging plan as well as a statement of intent part, of which I’ve reproduced above. Below is my hanging plan. Candidates are advised to choose and arrange photographs so that they form a cohesive and balanced panel.
After a morning when not a single panel passed, lunch was rapidly approaching and I was sure my panel would go up after we’d all had a break but, when another panel was brought in and I realised it was mine, I hardly dared watch.
My statement of intent was read out and the panel of Royal Photographic Society Fellows, all experts in their field, got up to view the images. Some photographs were taken down for closer inspection, others pondered from a slight distance. After a short while, the panelists took their places once more and the Chairman of the Contemporary Panel asked for an initial vote on my work. The voting is done such that the audience cannot see how the panelists have voted. Each judge was then asked to offer a critique. I heard some good things said but we’d heard good things said about all the previous panels of pictures that had failed. The Chairman then asked for another vote. I could hardly believe it when the Chairman said, ‘this panel meets the standard’. Up until now it had all been anonymous so my name was read out and there was a round of applause. We broke for lunch and quite a few people came up to congratulate me. It was a nice moment.
Naturally there were many more than 15 photographs taken during the course of this project but for the purposes of the distinction panel, I had to choose just 15. I’ve put my 15 pictures into a gallery that you can view below. It’s been a very absorbing project and I’m now left thinking what I should tackle next..