Just over a year ago I, along with another photographer Dylan Line got access to a north Birmingham factory to create a project . Trying not to have preconceived ideas, the factory provided a wealth of themes and projects to explore. In fact, too many. Most aspects of the building and working environment are extremely run down and immediately make you think it is an abandoned space. Indeed, on showing our initial efforts the Managing Director was disappointed that it did indeed look like an abandoned factory and not the place of work he proudly opened his doors for us to see. The factory and surrounding plots had a long family based tradition of providing important products to British industry, and that heritage was clearly an important part of their identity. However the images shouted a contrary narrative; of a business clinging on to a world dominated by manufacturing in China and the rise of alternative, factory free production methods such as 3D printing. How to present this precarious working environment without it looking like yet another abandoned factory project was proving to be a difficult challenge.
However, this changed when some months later we discovered a resource of old images stored in one of the abandoned floors. Within was an old Kodak box marked portraits of employees deceased,retired, left compiled just prior to the second world war. On the shop floor there was also a steel locker with damaged and deteriorating images of Christmas and birthday parties of decades past. It slowly dawned on us that through these found images the factory is not just a physical means of production; it is a place where people share their lives, form close relationships and make a mark on their territory. Calendars promising better times and places, gallows humoured graffiti, local football team allegence and portable radios scarred with years of dirt and detritus all act as visual reminders of human life existing within the manufacturing process.
Whilst I have been editing and compiling these images, what's left of the British Steel industry appears sunk under the mass of state subsidised Chinese steel flooding the global market. The political arguments and the tragedy of people losing their livelihoods aside, once closed those unique places of work and collective existence will be lost forever.
At the same time, technology drives my working environment to more isolated and impersonal spaces. Hot desking, skype, video conferencing all common place alternatives to the shared collective spaces and the experiences within. The tangible end product of my work is often translated in to code which is in turn in a perpetual state of change to meet the ever evolving needs of users and hardware. Will my work and time be marked and remembered by others in the future? I very much doubt it. Along with losing the skill and knowledge of a manufacturing base, we not only lose a part of our history, we lose a part of ourselves.
Till next time...