Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘industry’

Tin foil town in the rain

Port Talbot

The rain seeps down the train window in flecked torrents. There are only five disparate passengers in the carriage, but the combined body heat forms a steamy fog on the glass, obscuring the view as we cut through the lush south Wales countryside between Cardiff and Port Talbot.

Awaiting us is a sodden spectacle. An early Saturday morning wash out. Shoppers are so scarce on the semi-covered pedestrian thoroughfare that one could be forgiven for thinking that some nuclear apocalypse had taken the steel town down. The bright lights of the up-and-at-‘em-early charity shops illuminate the watery pavements. Somewhere behind me, steam evaporating into the Tupperware sky, the vast Port Talbot steelworks belches and hums. An ever-present feature of the landscape, now threatened with the same fate which has befallen other steel plants across the United Kingdom.

Protesting against steel job losses, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Protestors, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under a sturdy canvas canopy, sandwiched between a giant Tesco and the town’s shopping centre a group of people gather to shows solidarity, gather signatures and mutter darkly under the funereal sky about the fate of the plant. Interspersed between talk of saving the steelworks are more common complaints: “bloody weather. I can’t wait for summer,” intones one woman. “But summer’s just like this,” comes the retort from a man who looks as if he’s spent the morning in the shower, fully clothed. Competing with this throng is a man with a bicycle laden with onions for sale: ‘Last day’ reads a mournful sign attached to the bike.

I decide to grasp the soaking nettle and walk out towards the Tata-owned steelworks, by way of an arterial road which leaves the town behind me like a broody, surly neighbour. There’s not much to see, except the sights and sounds of industry: a faint wheezing noise and steaming plumes swirling towards the watery heavens indicate production continuing. But for how long, in the wake of 700 redundancies, it’s hard to know.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

My next stop is the town’s homely little football club. South Wales football competes bravely against its more illustrious cousin rugby union. Nevertheless, the passion amongst the small, colourfully-hatted supporters of Port Talbot Town FC is tangible as they cheer their team on to a cup win on a pitch which has been lined using baking flour at the referee’s insistence in order that the match may proceed.

I learn that the club was formed by a Scottish family who came south to work in the steel industry. it’s a poignant discovery for me as it forms a link with my photographs from the project The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig which I opened at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre two days previously. The parallels between Motherwell and Port Talbot are striking. Let’s just hope that their fates are not the same and that Port Talbot can survive the loss of part of its major industry with less damage and despair that engulfed Motherwell when Europe’s largest hot strip mill was closed in 1992.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

I’m wished well and sent on my way by smiling football fans. Their team has won three-nil. A small slit in the sky reveals a short pause in the rain, however, it proves to be just a hiatus between downpours. By the time I board the train back to Cardiff, Port Talbot is fast disappearing into a gloomy gloam. Here’s hoping the sun is shining in more ways than one tomorrow.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

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The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig

During 2014, I spent time revisiting Ravenscraig, the location of the iconic steelworks in Lanarkshire, which was controversially shut down by the then Conservative government in 1992.

Four years after its closure I returned on commission for the Independent newspaper and photographed the destruction of the cooling towers and gas holders (above) in a series of controlled explosions one summer Sunday afternoon.

By the time I returned almost two decades later, grand redevelopment plans had come and gone, including an idea to build an entire new town on the site. In fact, in the wake of the financial crash of 2008, building projects had been small-scale and sporadic. By 2014 there was a new college, a shiny sports centre and a few houses peppering the largely derelict site which occupied the equivalent to 700 football pitches, or twice the size of Monaco.

In between was a burgeoning nature reserve, officially off-limits to humans, but what had become in fact a vast and informal recreational area. Plans continue to be made, but the charming topography of the place still reveals secrets of where Scotland’s industrial heart once beat.

I met and photographed people who had worked in the steelworks all those years ago, and those who are working, living and playing on the site now. History brought them together in one project.

The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig, 2014

The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig, 2014

The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig, 2014

The project, entitled The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig, was part of the artistic collaboration between Document Scotland and our Welsh photography colleagues A Fine Beginning. It was first exhibited at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow in the autumn of 2014 as part of the Common Ground show, before moving on to Cardiff in February 2016, where it would be shown at the Millennium Centre.

The work was made possible due to the generous support of Creative Scotland and the University of St. Andrews Library’s special collections department.

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