Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘England’

Out on the street

Protestors from the National Association of Probation Officers on a picket line in Liverpool. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

Protestors from the National Association of Probation Officers on a picket line in Liverpool.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

I came across a group of picket line protesters on the way back from a meeting in central Liverpool today.

The spirit of defiance and rebellion is still active on Merseyside, where members of the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) were demonstrating as part of a nationwide day of action against the imminent privatisation of large parts of this successful and necessary service. NAPO, which has the best performance record of any public service, has helped re-offending rates decrease year-on-year so that they are now at their lowest levels since 2007. Reducing re-offending means safer communities, fewer victims and less crime.

There’s always so much negativity around protest in this country. And often so much defeatism when it comes to halting the juggernaut of private enterprise as it careers through our daily lives. I thought the image of two, young women offered the best illustration of their protests. And some hope for the future.

If you want to  find out more about NAPO, visit their website.

 

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Operation Finn

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“…and if you’re going to faint, please make sure you fall backwards out of the operating theatre!”

It was a solitary moment of humour during two tough months. Delivered to me and my journalist colleague Louise Tickle by the theatre matron at the London Evelina Children’s Hospital moments before we were due to witness open heart surgery on 10-day old Finn Jones, the words were still ringing in my ears as the operation to save the baby’s life got underway.

Five hours later we emerged from theatre, the work of surgeon Conal Austin complete. The operation had been a success. Finn could look forward to a normal, healthy life, with a normal healthy heart. I left the hospital completely drained and exhausted, yet with a feeling of life-affirming exhilaration, knowing I had witnessed what in Biblical times would have been termed a miracle. A tiny life, brought back from the abyss by the knowledge, skill and tenacity of the surgeon and his team, supported by all those at the hospital.

This part of the assignment had not been planned: originally the commission was to document the work of the staff at the Evelina’s intensive care unit (ICU), focusing on the multi-layered, specialist care which goes on every day, every week, every year. The dedication of the staff, from senior consultants to cleaners, brings into relief just how many resources are required to care for premature and newborn babies with a multitude of complicated health needs who are brought into the unit I visited.

Then Louise and I met Philip and Kathryn Jones from Kent, bright and bubbly and still giddy with excitement at the arrival of their first baby, Finn. They were open and friendly and when we approached them about documenting their experiences of life in the ICU, they were supportive of the idea. Over the next few days we began to learn more about Finn’s condition and were confronted with a dilemma: Finn was scheduled to have a ‘heart switch’ operation to correct a major defect. While our assignment was originally meant to focus on the unit, suddenly the operation took centre stage as the defining event in this larger-than-life case study. It felt wrong to ignore it and to pick up the story again after surgery, when Finn would be back in intensive care.

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A couple of days prior to the operation, Louise and I made the decision to approach Finn’s parents and the hospital, to enquire about being present for at least a short period of time either immediately before or after – or as a best case scenario during – surgery. Both Louise and I realised we would be asking Philip and Kathryn to place an enormous amount of trust in us – as virtual strangers – to be present at the crucial moment of this young life. After much consideration, understandably so given the nature of the request, consent was given just three hours before Finn was taken down to theatre from the ICU and put in the care of the anaesthetist. All of a sudden there were briefings about etiquette and behaviour around an operation, disinfection, getting changed into scrubs and preparing ourselves for something neither Louise nor I had ever experienced before and which we had no time to prepare for mentally. As someone whose squeamishness extends to diving behind a sofa if a hypodermic needle is produced on television, I did consider the consequences of getting close to open heart surgery. I knew, however, that my part in this operation was as a bystander, a witness and that everyone in that room was expected to do their job to the best of their ability, and that should include me. In the end, I suppose, some sort of adrenaline kicked in and the remarkable ability we have to carry on as normal took over as I quietly and unobtrusively as possible photographed the watchful precision of the surgical team as they went about their business in a calm and hushed environment. I concentrated entirely on photographing what was unfolding in the space around me, never stopping to consider the wider implications of what I was actually seeing. Occasionally, I would step back to the outer walls of the room, to draw breath, pause and reflect. But in those moments, I endeavoured to remain focused and not allow my mind to wander, especially to personal thoughts about my family, in particular my own healthy, happy children far way.

Those five hours seemed to pass simultaneously in an instant and yet last a lifetime. I had little comprehension of what occurred medically, but realised the enormity of what I was seeing and photographing and I hope the pictures convey a sense of what was achieved in that dark arc of concentration and skill. It was a privilege to be allowed such access to something so fundamental, and hiding behind my camera, I watched events unfold with a sense of humility. When it was over, my instinct was to taste the fresh, autumnal air outside the hospital and breath deeply and thankfully.

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After the rarefied sense of achievement, the following few days proved to be black. Finn’s condition deteriorated due to falling blood pressure and word came through that his struggle for life wasn’t over. This news wrenched me back to the emotions of the operating theatre and made me question what I had seen: had I witnessed the beginning or end of a short life? Until we heard that Finn had miraculously started to pull through after several days of teetering on the brink, I looked deep into myself and sought answers to questions about the consequences of getting so close to a story.

Over the following month, Finn’s condition fluctuated but he eventually gained the weight and strength required to be allowed to go home with his parents for the first time. The final chapter for me and this story played out on a bleak, December day, illuminated by a visit to the Jones family house to take photographs of Philip, Kathryn and Finn together, all smiling and looking forward to a bright future thanks in no small part to the wonders of modern medicine and the people who deliver it.

 

(Colin McPherson and journalist Louise Tickle worked on commission for the Guardian Weekend Magazine between October and December 2013 documenting the work of the London Evelina Children’s Hospital. The article was published on 18th January 2014. The gallery of photographs accompanying this blog contains images from Finn’s operation which some of you might find distressing.)

 

 

 

 

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All roads lead to Leeds

I will be participating in a Pecha Kucha-style event run by Miniclick and hosted by the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds, tomorrow night, Wednesday 2nd October. I’ll be talking about my Document Scotland project entitled ‘A Fine Line’ and updating on the progress of the work as it moves on from Gretna and explores the central Borders.

The event coincides with the launch of Tom Stoddart’s exhibition, and Tom will be there to take part in a Q & A session. Full details of the evening’s entertainment available here.

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Stoking the recession

 

A street with derelict and occupied houses in central Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

A street with derelict and occupied houses in central Stoke-on-Trent.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

I suppose due to my location in the north of England, I get to travel to all points of the compass covering assignments. Yesterday it was back to that collection of towns which are collectively known as Stoke-on-Trent, famed for Wedgwood and Royal Doulton, homemade oatcakes and of course Slash from Guns N’ Roses. I know it well.

Now the city, like many in England’s industrial heartland, lies suspended in transition. Gone are the factories and manufacturing, relics of the Industrial Revolution long since still and silent. In common with many other towns and cities, the service sector was supposed to lead to a bright, clean and vibrant future. But now, in the midst of a seemingly never-ending recession, Stoke is stagnating and suffering. Large areas of the city are partially developed, with houses ripped down awaiting rebuilding. Much of the city centre is dedicated to pound shops and payday credit but meanwhile the food bank does brisk business at the Hanley Baptist Church. On the far edge of town I meet Jacky, disabled but determined, coping with the cuts as best she can. Still there’s a quiet and determined spirit about everyone I meet. No self-pity, just smiles and wry, dry humour. It’s the only way.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

I walk around and photograph, passing the site (now cleared) of Stoke’s last traditional oatcake maker – a story I covered for the Independent a while back. No-one bothers me. A couple of drunks ask me questions and I stop for a while and tell them I am working for Le Monde. “The French Resistance is here at last!” says one. We laugh and I carry on working.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The abandoned Ceramica tourist attraction in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

The abandoned Ceramica tourist attraction in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

The following day the photographs appear online. Its a snapshot timed to coincide with the day the Chancellor of the Exchequer dishes out more cuts and warns of further austerity to come. I think of Stoke: stoic, honest, enduring. And I am sure it will bounce back. Maybe.

 

 

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Here’s Ricky….

Ricky Hatton, pictured at a press call to promote a fight by fellow boxer Martin Murray, Salford. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Ricky Hatton, pictured at a press call to promote a fight by fellow boxer Martin Murray, Salford.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

A funny thing happened on the way to the photo assignment.

I was commissioned to do portraits of aspiring, young British boxer Haroon Khan, brother of world champion Amir, at a gym in deepest Salford. A prearranged time and a prearranged venue. Bags, lights, stands, batteries, everything packed and an easy trip along the M62, thinking about how I’d photograph the younger Khan and hoping that he’d allowed enough time in his schedule for me to do a nice set of pictures.

The scene that greeted me when I entered the small, one-ring gym was baffling. Several TV crews, a dozen or so journalists, a clutch of photographers (or should that be a flash mob of photographers?), not to mention trainers, advisers, and the obligatory PR people all milling around. Interviews were in progress and media equipment strewn around the small space. Maybe Haroon’s first professional fight really was bigger news than I imagined? After all, he is Amir’s younger brother.

Ricky Hatton, pictured at a press call to promote a fight by fellow boxer Martin Murray, Salford. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Ricky Hatton, pictured at a press call to promote a fight by fellow boxer Martin Murray, Salford.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

But no, the assembled press pack weren’t there for the same reason as me. Soon I saw the real object of their interest in the familiar facial shape of ex-world champion Ricky Hatton. If I couldn’t quite hear those famous Mancunian tones, I could certainly imagine them. He was there in his role as promoter – bigging up a forthcoming fight by one of the boxers he now represents. Of course this rather changed my plans and cramped my style when it came to photographing Khan the younger. But somehow, like a boxer swaying around the ring, weaving in-and-out and ducking the odd haymaker, I managed to find a number of suitable locations and got on with my portrait session. Haroon was a real pleasure to work with and seemed genuinely delighted at the interest in him. And after I’d completed the images I wanted, I thought it would be rude not to photograph Ricky, someone who had eluded my camera up until then.

Ricky Hatton's tattoo, pictured at a press call to promote a fight by fellow boxer Martin Murray, Salford. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Ricky Hatton’s tattoo, pictured at a press call in Salford to promote a fight by fellow boxer.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

So, in boxing terms, I photographed the under card and the main attraction. But I won’t reveal which was which. Although in this week’s Independent on Sunday, you’ll see my photographs of a champion-in-the-making.

 

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On the Road

“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.” – Amelia E. Barr.

These images represent a collection of my favourite places, people and memories from over 25 years on the road with my camera.

Each photograph documents a time and a place, and holds a particular significance for me. Some were taken on assignment, others whilst travelling or on holiday. Continue reading…

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When Saturday Comes

football (foot|ball)
Pronunciation:/ˈfʊtbɔːl/
noun
* 1 [mass noun] any of various forms of team game involving kicking (and in some cases also handling) a ball, in particular (in the UK) soccer.
* 2 the playing of football, especially in a stylish and entertaining way: his team played some impressive football.

These images were taken on assignment for When Saturday Comes magazine from matches across England, Scotland, Wales and continental Europe. The brief is always clear: get behind the scenes of the world’s favourite sport. Continue reading…

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