Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘London’

Any old Iron?

UK - London - West Ham United Versus Crystal Palace Football Match

With just a handful games left to play at their historic old Boleyn Ground, West Ham United fans gather for a London derby against Crystal Palace. Fine spring sunshine brings the crowds on to the streets early and the pubs and cafes are doing a brisk trade a good couple of hours before kick-off.

I catch the mood as I arrive at Upton Park station. There’s optimism in the air. The Iron, as they style themselves, are on the up, chasing a European place next season and contemplating the much-talked about move to their new stadium at nearby Stratford. Whilst it may be a wrench to leave their present surroundings, the demands on football clubs to become global brands is driving the project and most supporters seem content with the prospect, especially as season ticket prices on offer are low and the present scramble for tickets will be ended by the increased capacity at the new ground.

West Ham fans in Ken's Cafe. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

West Ham fans in Ken’s Cafe. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Sweeping down towards the stadium, past the famous Ken’s Cafe, stuffed with memorabilia and full English breakfasts as well as full English people, I arrive at the Boleyn Ground: its ersatz towers either side of the main entrance lending an air of a kitsch amusement park. The stadium is ringed by burger vans, indeed the quantity of mechanically-recovered meat being greedily consumed really puts the iron in irony: the modern-day football fan is the antithesis of an Olympian athlete, yet West Ham will soon reside in the Olympic Stadium. I surmise the only green shoots I’ll see on Green Street today will be the pitch. I’m not wrong.

Momentum builds inexorably towards kick-off time, with fans jostling around the clogged up narrow streets which act like arteries funnelling fans in the direction of the Bobby Moore stand, the Chicken Run and the less-traditional sounding Betway Stand. I look for sharp-suited East End geezers, skinheads with braces or maybe smartly-attired casuals, but all I encounter are people of all ages, sizes and genders in replica kits, the scourge of modern football. There’s a business-like air with fans going about their fortnightly routine behind smiling, contented faces. They pour out of the Boleyn Tavern, arriving in their seats just in time for the trademark cascade of bubbles and the singing of the accompanying theme tune as the players walk solemnly onto the pitch.

Fans squeezing through the turnstiles. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Fans squeezing through the turnstiles. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

The game is feisty, short of real quality and with the odd surprise. Palace take the lead, the delayed reaction amongst the away fans suggesting this hadn’t been expected of a team yet to register a league win in 2016. Still, the Hammers find their poise and are winning by half-time. I don’t see either goal, preferring to study the stands for signs of life. I find plenty.

Half-time brings a parade of supporters from West Ham United overseas fan clubs, marching to rapturous applause and song. Americans, Israelis, Iraqis all in step together. Remarkable.

Action at the Boleyn Ground. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

Action at the Boleyn Ground. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

The second half is disjointed and increasingly bitter. West Ham are reduced to 10 men and then to hanging on as Palace sniff an unlikely win. They fall just short and it ends 2-2. No-one goes home happy. “It’s just like back to the old days,” complains one fan as he exists the stadium for what could, conceivably, be his last visit as sunshine gives way to a miserable drizzle. After 112 years at the Boleyn Ground, there are plenty of old days to remember. And much to look forward to. But it won’t be the same, even if at present the grass does appear greener on the other side.

To view a fuller selection of images from the day, please visit the WSC Photos website.

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On display

2014 looks like being remembered as being the summer which I truly made an exhibition of myself!

I am fortunate to be showing four separate bodies of work at four different venues across four cities.

Sarah Bush, pictured at her office in Liverpool where she works for HMRC. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

Sarah Bush, pictured at her office in Liverpool where she works for HMRC.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

Already on show is my contribution to DaDaFest who commissioned me to make portraits on the theme of disability at work. The resulting Working Lives: Here and There exhibition is on show as part of Liverpool’s International Festival for Business and can be seen on the sixth floor of 43 Castle Street in Liverpool until 26 July. There are restricted opening times: Wednesday-Friday (12.30-5pm) and Saturday (12.30-3pm).

'Border fence, Cheviot hills, 2014' from 'A Fine Line - Exploring Scotland's Border with England'. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

‘Border fence, Cheviot hills, 2014’ from ‘A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s Border with England’.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

On 1 July, Beyond the Border opens at Impressions Gallery in Bradford, where I will be   showing my project entitled A Fine Line, part of the Document Scotland group show.

Designed and staged by the gallery’s director, Anne McNeill, this major event is a milestone in my career: the first time my work has been fully curated. It also marks the first exhibition in England exclusively showing Document Scotland’s work. Working with Anne and the staff at Impressions on the exhibition has been both educational and enlightening and myself and my colleagues are looking forward to a terrific launch night in Bradford on Thursday 3 July. The exhibition continues until 27 September 2014. We will be staging a professional development day and artists’ talks at the gallery on Saturday 26 July.

"Is gender inequality an impediment to poverty elimination?". Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

“Is gender inequality an impediment to poverty elimination?”.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014, all rights reserved.

Next up, the A41 Project reaches the southern end of the eponymous trunk road and will be exhibited at Free Space Gallery in Kentish Town. The show will open on 23 July and continue until 12 September (Monday to Friday 9am-6.30pm). This will be the final outing for this particular project, having previously been shown in West Bromwich, Milton Keynes and Birkenhead.

The demolition of Ravenscraig, 1996. © Colin McPherson, 2014.

The demolition of Ravenscraig, 1996. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2014.

Finally, there’s the results of another collaboration to look forward to at the end of August when Document Scotland’s Common Ground exhibition opens at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. The exhibition is a partnership with Welsh collective A Fine Beginning and I will be showing a new body of work made and completed over the summer of 2014 entitled Phoenix: the fall and rise of Ravenscraig, which looks at the legacy of the giant steel mill in Lanarkshire, controversially closed down in 1992, which I photographed being demolished four years later. The exhibition runs for a couple of months and we will be staging two-days of artists’ talks, portfolio reviews and other activities on 29 and 30 August at the gallery.

I hope to see you at some of these exciting events over the next three months.

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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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The A41 Project

For one year from late-2012, I worked on a body of work which sought to illustrate using photography, the themes, ideas and facts to do with inequality in our society.

The result was the ‘A41 Project’, a series of landscape photographs which depict how the issues around inequality in contemporary society can be expressed through metaphoric images. The project used as its template the historic A41 trunk road, which links central London with Birkenhead on the banks of the Mersey and is staged in partnership with The Equality Trust, an organisation which raises awareness and campaigns on inequality in the UK. It is co-funded by The Equality Trust and Arts Council England. Continue reading…

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