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Feature: “Photie-Man” How Tom Wood made a name for himself

How Tom Wood made a name for himself

There’s something about the Wirral peninsula that must burrow deep inside the minds of artists who live there. It creates an affinity, and a relationship with their place that is rarely seen elsewhere. Tom Wood, one of the UK’s most prominent photographers, but one who has worked incredibly hard to get there, started his career living and working in New Brighton, photographing the daily lives of the town’s residents, before they knew what was happening.

His quick fire style, capturing people unaware created a recognisable signature to his images as his confidence grew, but in the early days it was the beauty of New Brighton he chose to save. Literally wandering the streets with his camera, the locals begun calling him photie-man, a name very deserved, but likely not positive at first.

The images he took of New Brighton are of people, and you see a progression towards a more accuarate, honest representation of their personalities in the latest exhibition opening this month at The Sailing School, New Brighton.

But he stuck at it, documenting and preserving the town he called home, and eventually creating the work he would become most associated with. Those blank stares.

The work most of us here will be familiar with is The Pier Head, 25 years worth of images of ferry crossings and ferry terminals on the River Mersey, catching people with no notice, in their daily lives, never quite smiling, never quite engaging with the camera fast enough.

But that confidence to just take the photo and ask later is what gave Tom Wood the name. You don’t get called Photie-Man for politely snapping on request, you get it because your camera extends your arm.

The images that made that name for the photographer go on display 14 July at Marine Point, New Brighton, alongside images that show his confidence building.

At the Williamson, Tom Wood’s relationship with Wirral goes further, with a three year documentary series capturing Cammell Laird ship-yard at the height of production, between 1993 and 1996. The series, commissioned by the Documentary Photography Archive, sought to show the working lives of the men who built the ships as they worked to save the yard.

So for this year’s Independents Biennial, the internationally significant artist takes a look back at New Brighton with Ken Grant and Martin Parr in the return of photie-man, with the same intrigue and personal attachment to the images likely to be found in here as with Open Eye Gallery’s show earlier this year. And at the Williamson Art Gallery, showing one of the most significant exhibitions ever produced about late 20th Century British industry.

New Brighton Revisited is at the Sailing School, Marine Point, New Brighton, 14 July – 25 August
Cammell Laird, by Tom Wood, is at Williamson Art Gallery & Museum 7 July – 14 October