This is his exploration of the remnants of the northern industrial landscape. With more and more sites being demolished he is probably just “one step ahead of the wrecking ball”, both as a photographer and in his engineering career. And he reckons his photography reflects this – “I’m both an insider looking out, and an outsider looking in”.
Andy has a long-standing fascination with news and photojournalism and sees himself as “a sort of documentary photographer”. He is much guided, albeit subconsciously, by “The Life Magazine Formula for Visual Variety in the Photo-Essay” as a framework for documenting the places he visits.
The formula proceeds through eight steps.
1. Introductory or overall – usually a wide angle or aerial shot that establishes the scene.
2. Medium – focuses on one activity or one group.
3. Close Up – zeroes in on one element, like a person’s hands or an intricate detail of a building.
4. Portrait – usually either a dramatic, tight head shot or a person in his or her environmental setting.
5. Interaction – people conversing or people in action.
6. Signature – summarizes the situation with all the key storytelling elements in one photo, often called the decisive moment.
7. Sequence – a how-to, before and after, or a series with a beginning, middle and end (the sequence gives the essay a sense of action).
8. Clincher – a closer that will end the story.
Use of the formula is well illustrated by W Eugene Smith’s 1948 Life Magazine photo essay about the day-to-day life of Dr Ernest Ceriani, the sole physician for around 2,000 people living in and around the town of Kremmling, Colorado.
Andy illustrated his own use of the formula with both his story of a foundryman working through the “green sand casting process” in a small Lancashire foundry and his collection of images of Brierfield Mill, near Burnley.
Throughout the presentation Andy also referred to other photographers who, in one way or another, have influenced or inspired him.
· Michael Kenna, known for his atmospheric black and white images of landscapes and man-made structures. Particularly helpful was a 2003 Lenswork interview in which he suggested that the interpretation of something was much more important than recording or duplicating it.
· Ian Beesley who is documenting the decline of the industrial society and its impact on communities.
· Jack Delano who documented American culture and people.
· Don McCullin who, in addition to his renowned war photography, spent plenty of time examining the underside of society.
· Hilla and Bernd Becher who photographed the disappearing industrial architecture around Europe and North America (particularly their typologies of industrial buildings and structures such as the winding towers above mine shafts).
· Denis Thorp who produced “A View from the North”, a book of photographs documenting life in the north of England.
· Leigh Preston, a travel and landscape photographer who has produced atmospheric monochrome images of the mill towns in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
And examples of their work were included.
Andy’s own photography is a fusion of urban exploration and industrial landscapes. And he is particularly interested in the juxtaposition of industry and community, places where industrial sites overshadow residential areas.
His presentation covered a diverse selection of sites starting with abandoned textile mills in Lancashire and Yorkshire, ranging through a beached ferry, some unique views inside derelict cooling towers, some active steelworks, a disused underground coal mine, the enormous slate quarries of Snowdonia, and some decommissioned oil rigs, before finishing with some shipyard cranes.
It takes a lot of research to find and assess the right sites to get the sort of images he wants. Andy uses Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, BBC News etc, the Geograph website, Getty Images, Alamy, Urbex websites, Google Earth, Google Streetview, Google Images, and other sources. He also of course keeps his eyes and ears open. He found one abandoned mill just by spotting a chimney not far from the road while driving home from Yorkshire. He was able to identify Griff Mill and research the site on Google Earth and Geograph before visiting and exploring the derelict building.
Just as interesting as all the industrial sites are Andy’s black and white photography. His images are – as befits the subject – contrasty, gritty and grainy with lots of detail, especially the coarse textures of stone, old wood, and rusting metal.
Andy claimed to be “agnostic when it comes to cameras”. He shoots with a Nikon D4 and D810 and has good lenses. He shoots in RAW. He doesn’t use flash and usually doesn’t use a tripod. “High ISO is OK” and he is “not precious about noise”.
When Andy visits these industrial sites, he usually knows what sort of shots he wants to get. And then he processes his shots to bring his interpretation to the image. This processing is “not super technical”, being mainly Lightroom B&W conversions which he may also take into Photoshop (and sometimes Color Efex Pro, even though these are monochrome images) for a bit more work.
His aim is not just to present a record of these places, but to present a “creative treatment of actuality”, a term coined by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson. And he reckons black and white photography allows him to express something beyond just “I was here, this is what I saw”.
Andy is passionate about what he does. And his fascinating talk was lavishly illustrated with his gritty, atmospheric and evocative black and white images. There was plenty to admire and plenty of inspiration for aspiring documentary photographers.