Another layer of steel

Andy Scott's Steel Man

During the spring and summer of 2014, I spent several months exploring the site of the former Ravenscraig steelworks in Lanarkshire.

Once Europe’s largest hot strip mill, the British Steel plant employed thousands of men – and some women – in what was commonly regarded as Scotland’s industrial heart from when it opened in 1957 to its controversial closure in 1992. When it shut, the surrounding area was devastated economically and socially and after the site was cleared in 1996, lay derelict and neglected for many years.

My project looked at the Ravenscraig site today and the people who were endeavouring to bring the area back to life. I photographed and interviewed people who had worked in the plant, as well as those now studying, working and living at the college, sports centre, businesses and housing estates slowly springing up on a site which is double the size of the principality of Monaco.

Andy Scott welding Steel Man in his studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott welding Steel Man in his studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

The result of my work was The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig which was exhibited as part of Document Scotland’s Common Ground exhibition at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow in the autumn of 2014. As with many projects, the story didn’t seem to end there. In the run up to the show, I had met Andy Scott, the acclaimed Scottish sculptor whose most celebrated work, the giant Kelpies statues was one of my favourite pieces of public art in the world.

I discovered that Andy was working on a new piece, which had been commissioned by a group of people connected with the steel industry in Lanarkshire, who wanted to make a commemorative statue to honour those who had lost their lives in the service of iron and steel making in Scotland. When I first visited Andy’s studio workshop in Glasgow, the parallels with steel making were instantly apparent: welding gear, safety equipment, heat and sparks flying everywhere. And before my eyes, rivet-by-rivet, Steel Man was taking shape.

Andy Scott during a break whilst working on Steel man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott during a break whilst working on Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

The major difference was scale: whilst Andy painstakingly crafted his statue with the precision of a jeweller, Ravenscraig was a belching furnace, a difficult and dangerous place of work, where many injuries were sustained and lives lost. Notwithstanding that places like Ravenscraig produced the steel which made everything from airplanes to washing machines and powered Scotland’s economy, those that worked there did so out of necessity, not choice. They also had no choice when the plant closed. Some took redundancy, some left the area to find employment and many simply never worked again.

Andy Scott working in his studio workshop in Glasgow. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott working in his studio workshop in Glasgow. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

As the statue progressed during the spring of 2015, it became apparent to me that it was not only a timely memorial to the past but a symbol of hope for the future. Ravenscraig today may not be the site of an economic powerhouse, but slowly, surely it is coming back to life. Steel Man is a poignant reminder of what has gone before, but as a piece of art by one of Scotland’s best-regarded contemporary creative minds, it offers us a glimpse of what is possible if a group of people are determined to make something happen. The fundraising effort to bring Steel Man to life involved people from the old industry and those determined that the site should have a positive future.

Steel Man taking shape in Andy Scott's studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Steel Man taking shape in Andy Scott’s studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Steel Man was finally unveiled at a moving and celebratory ceremony in June 2015, when the statue was shown off for the first time. Former steelworkers, trade unionists, religious and civic leaders were joined by local school pupils, supporters of the project and Andy Scott himself, who talked about the statue and how much it meant to him to create. There were prayers and dedications to those who had perished and as the wind whistled around, it was not difficult to image in noise, dust, smoke and heat of Ravenscraig past.

For me, it was another fascinating layer to the story of Ravenscraig, one which I first became acquainted with on a hot July afternoon in 1996, when the Independent commissioned me to photograph the destruction of the iconic cooling towers by controlled explosion. It took me fully two decades to return to Motherwell to take up the story again, but if I hadn’t, I would not have encountered so many interesting and inspirational people, and I would not have met Steel Man either.

Coverage of the making of Steel Man in the Independent. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Coverage of the making of Steel Man in the Independent. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Workmen preparing for the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Workmen preparing for the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Pipers welcome guests to the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Pipers welcome guests to the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Flowers growing on the Ravenscraig site. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Flowers growing on the Ravenscraig site. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Former steelworkers gather at the unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Former steelworkers and their families gather at the unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

The unveiling ceremony of Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

The unveiling ceremony of Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott and Steel Man at the official unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott and Steel Man at the official unveiling at Ravenscraig. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Did you like this? Share it:

Working The Border – Carlisle Photo Festival

Many thanks to Malcolm Dickson and Street Level Photoworks Glasgow for including work by Sophie Gerrard, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Colin McPherson in an exhibition entitled ‘Working The Border’  at Carlisle Photo Festival recently. Situated on the railway bridge linking Northbound and Southbound platforms at Carlisle Railway Station, the exhibition also includes work by Colin Gray, Andy Wiener and Donald John MacLean. The festival itself was on from 7th – 15th November, however, the works on the railway bridge remain in place.

All the bodies of work featured are based upon or comment on the Anglo-Scottish border and notions of national identity, landscape and history.

 

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert's images from 'Edge of an Empire' installed at Carlisle Photo Festival © Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s images from ‘Edge of an Empire’ installed at Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Carlisle Photo Festival © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

Sophie Gerrard’s images from ‘Drawn To The Land’ installed at Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Carlisle Photo Festival Colin McPherson's images from 'A Fine Line' installed at Carlisle Photo Festival © Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014© Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014

Colin McPherson’s images from ‘A Fine Line’ installed at Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Originally shown in Document Scotland’s summer exhibition ‘Beyond The Border’ at Impressions Gallery in Bradford, the images chosen for ‘Working The Border’ include those from Sophie’s ‘Drawn To The Land’, Colin’s ‘A Fine Line’ and Jeremy’s ‘Edge of an Empire’.

 

Carlisle Photo Festival © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Carlisle Photo Festival © Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014

Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Working the Border’ explores the geophysical & cartographic line that separates Scotland from England.  It borrows its title from the larger work by ae phor, a selection of which was exhibited in the waiting room on Platform 4, accompanied by a soundwork ‘Border Fiddle Music’. This space also included a selected series from Jo Metson Scott’s ‘The Borderland’ project, which was shown for the first time, alongside ‘Schengland’ and ‘The Debatable Land’ by Alan Knox.

 

Carlisle Photo Festival © Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014

The waiting room on platform 4 at Carlisle Railway Station for Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

Carlisle Photo Festival © Streetlevel Photoworks November 2014

Alan Knox’s ‘Schengland’ installed at Carlisle Photo Festival. Image © Claire Maxwell, courtesy Street Level Photoworks November 2014

 

The festival was on from 7th – 15th November – only a week, however, the work on the railway bridges remains in place, so, if you’re in town, or waiting for a connection, or passing through at 100mph on a Virgin train – be sure to take a look!

 

 

Did you like this? Share it: