Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert “Best Shot”

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Jeremy’s image from the Glasgow shipyards, taken in 1992 and currently featured in the exhibition Govan/Gdansk at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow was featured in the Guardian this week with an interview by Ben Beaumont Thomas.

 

You can read the interview here:

“In the 1990s I lived in Govan, on the south side of Glasgow, near the shipyard. At the time, it was owned by a Norwegian company called Kværner, but before that it had been John Brown’s and Fairfield’s. Those are the famous names in Scottish shipbuilding. You hear talk of the days when 10,000 men worked in the yards. Sadly, that was before my time.

In the 1990s, I travelled a lot in eastern Europe. I remember talking with a worker in north east Romania, far from any coast or shipbuilding area, and he knew of Glasgow as a shipbuilding port. I always thought that was great: I love the fact that my city is known either for Rangers and Celtic – or for shipbuilding.

I wanted to grab my own little slice of Glasgow history. These are the shipyards that helped build the city and make its industrial capabilities renowned the world over. There are three yards in Glasgow now. Two are owned by BAE Systems and dedicated to defence. I haven’t tried to get in, but I’ve been told it’s pretty much impossible. The third yard, Ferguson Marine, nearly went into liquidation in 2014.

I took this in 1992, a year before Glasgow gave Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city – another project I worked on. I was 24 and wanted to get into the yards before that world disappeared. I remember being impressed by the monumental scale of it all. Parts of the ship seem quite organic: the blades of the propeller look like the underside of a whale. I shot it on an old Nikon in black and white, as that puts the focus on shapes and sizes. People have asked me if it’s perspective that makes the workers look so tiny. But it’s not. They are to scale.

A launch is an incredible thing. You hear all the klaxons going off, the speeches, the champagne bottle being broken against the ship. Then the wedges and things that hold the ship in place somehow get removed and the ship starts to slide. As it gathers pace, those huge restraining chains make an enormous noise and all the rust and dust rises into the air. The sound would echo off the buildings all around. It was a romantic, emotional moment.

A guy agreed to take me round in exchange for a print to hang in his house. I was no student of shipbuilding. I just reacted to what was in front of me. I seem to remember thinking the yards were “stour” – that’s a great Glasgow word, meaning musty and dusty. I mean, you’re outdoors and beside a river, so you get a lot of fresh air, but these are still big dusty places.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Greenpeace ships: the Arctic Sunrise, the Rainbow Warrior. I travelled the world: the Pacific, Brazil, Korea, New Guinea. Also, in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time on North Sea fishing boats. For a landlubber, I’ve done a lot of boatwork.”

 

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s shipyard photos feature in Govan/Gdansk, at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until 31 July.

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Shipwrecked in Govan

The cranes of the Govan shipyard on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The cranes of the Govan shipyard on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

 

We’ve been here before! Seeing all the images this week in the media from the Govan shipyard in Glasgow, reminded me of the last time the yard was in crisis and under threat of closure and redundancies.

Workers at the Govan shipyard on the Clyde. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers at the Govan shipyard on the Clyde. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

On 14th April 1999, I was dispatched along with reporter Jack O’Sullivan by the Independent to get over to the yard, as a major announcement by the then-owners Kvaerner was expected. Like all these types of assignments, the newspaper photographer is there very much as an intruder, illustrator or, at worst, an inconvenience. I always felt like a bit of all three.

Workers at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The thing that struck me back then – and still amazes me when I look at contemporary images – is the sheer scale of the shipyard. Monolithic cranes, gigantic equipment, monumental structures. And towering out of the grey gloom that day, ships. Vast hulks, speckled with tiny dots, which I came to realise were people, working high on the scaffolding or towers.

A solitary worker and a crane at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

A solitary worker and a crane at the Govan shipyard.
© Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The men, often casually dressed in their own clothes, jeans, jerseys, jackets, ignored the small gang of press photographers, reporters and television crews who weaved their way across the yard, trying to form impressions and frame the story. I don’t remember being made to feel welcome, but equally, the reception we got was not hostile. Weary resignation to fate? Maybe, or possibly they were used to it by then.

A worker carrying equipment through the yard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

A worker carrying equipment through the yard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

It is, of course, impossible to form an impression of what life was really like at the yard. In those pre-digital days, time on an assignment for the next day’s newspaper was even tighter that it is today. It was a case of making an image which could convey a sense of the story. At that point no-one knew what the outcome would be. In the end, it was a happy one, of sorts. BAE Systems bought the shipyard and on the back of Royal Navy orders has continued to make vessels.

Workers making their way out of the Govan shipyard at the end of their shift. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers making their way out of the Govan shipyard at the end of their shift.
© Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

As I headed off to file my photographs to the Independent, I knew that this was just a chapter in the long, slow and painful decline of Scotland’s heavy industries. I am just content that I was able to see a small snapshot of the story before moving on to the next assignment.

 

Colin McPherson photographed news stories, sport and features in Scotland for the Independent and Independent on Sunday from 1995 until he moved to England in 2004. He still works for both papers, which have been redesigned and relaunched today.

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