First Leg North – Hartlepool

SO.. After weeks of preparation and work on the truck (more about her later) I have finally left the vice-like clutch of London for my big project in Scotland. Typically London was pouring with rain on Thursday, there was snow forecast en-route and I didn’t finish packing till 11pm – however I was leaving! 3 friends had missed their flight to Edinburgh that day so by their misfortune I saw the first leg in with good company and a wonderful nights sleep in a farmhouse near Morpeth.

The next morning I had an opportunity to visit Hartlepool for a day and night. Hartlepool, Teeside and Middlesborough are dominated by heavy industry of steel and petrochemistry all stemming from the incredible legacy of ship bulding with a rich heritage lasting over 180 years. My recent desire to visit the area sadly stems from the imminent and now seemingly permanent closure of the Redcar Corus Steel Plant. The plant has been balancing on a knife edge for 7 years and with it the livelihoods of over 1800 workers and their families. Sadly this Friday marked the final mothballing (read closure) of the plant as the last ingot left the line and the blast furnace drained.

I am often caught in the strange limbo of working for environmental advocacy but by through sharing my passion for the visual of heavy industrial landscapes. Driving the perimeter of the site I looked for a vantage point of the huge plant in its final hours, wanting to avoid the picket lines of workers and photojournalists. A local ITV news crew had bagged the best clear view and were doing live interviews with begriefed workers. Hearing their words and talking to them was very moving, seeing such strong passionate engineers with the mood of a funeral procession. Such emotion I feel is lost when chopped together into news broadcasts we are so saturated with. I had followed the stories of the strikes, and the pleas to our government to Save Our Steel but now defeat hung in the air. What route of history and politics can lead a nation that pioneered the industrial revolution to such dire straits angers me intensely.

Being served the best Fish n Chips of the year didn’t seem to lift the mood of myself nor the 3 families waiting in line. I fled to the hills (literally) to attempt a big landscape shot across the landscape before the sodium lights and the blast furnace went cold for good.

Heading up hill in the dark I noticed a gate heading west leading towards the cliffs. Dam – Locked…. “Please ring 01784 XXXXXX” for access”. If you don’t ask you don’t get! David the shepherd exchanged the key for 2 laps of the field looking for birthing ewes and saving him the outing. Deal!

2 miles of cross-country later with thankfully no midwifery duties I was rewarded with an incredible view across the Mersey, the faltering pride of British Industry and beyond.

Here’s a digi-roid of the view before some 6×7 exposures. I also couldn’t resist shooting an all night Time Lapse from the ridge. I snatched a few hours sleep while the camera worked and the snow pelted the truck. The 6×7 processed and Time Lapse post-production will have to wait. Scotland will not…

~ by Toby Smith on February 20, 2010.

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