A vibrant ode to Liverpool in the '80s and '90s

A vibrant ode to Liverpool in the '80s and '90s
Mersey Paradise — Photographer Tom Wood remembers shooting the pubs, club and bus rides in Liverpool through the '70s to the '90s and finding meaning in everyday scenes.

Hailing from County Mayo, Ireland, Tom Wood fell in love with photography as a young man when he began visiting a local charity shop filled with glossy picture magazines, abandoned family albums, and vintage postcards from the turn of the century, which he purchased for a penny apiece. 

He never thought of making photographs until he was an art student at Leicester Polytechnic in the mid-1970s. “After I shot a few rolls at school, I saw the same camera in a chemist shop, a Rolleicord, and bought that,” Wood says. 

“I suddenly felt I could take pictures and it was dead easy. When I left college, all I wanted to do was make underground avant-garde films but 16-millimetre film was really expensive, so I thought I would just do photography for a little while.”

Finding a pair (colour film), 1990

Gangolads, Anfield 1992

A “little while” stretched into a lifetime, captured in the pages of a new book, 101 Pictures (RRB Photo Books), which weaves together scenes of Liverpool and the Wirral between 1978 and 2001. First known as ‘David’ (after David Bailey) then ‘Photie Man’, Wood was embedded in the community. 

“There’s maybe ten different series, and yet the book flows together without the reader being particularly aware. That’s the way I worked,” Wood says. 

“I’d walk along the promenade, photograph on the ferry boat, hang around the bus station, get the bus, go to the Women’s Market and photograph there for a few hours, have a drink in the pub, go to football in the afternoon, take the train back, have dinner, go out for a drink with friends, then go to the nightclub.”

“The next day I might be going to the shipyard. It all blends together,” he says. In 101 Pictures, Wood captures the passing of time through the act of tracing the same ground over and over again, his photographs revealing the patterns of life which exist under the surface of things.

Rachel, age 17, 1985

“I really like what Lisette Model said: ‘I have often been asked what I wanted to prove by my photographs. The answer is, I don’t want to prove anything. They prove to me, and I am the one who gets the lesson,’” he says.

“You’re asking a question when you make a picture. You’re not trying to document anything; you’re exploring this space in between you and someone who catches your eye. It’s about things you see, not what you think.”

For Wood, the questions are the ends, rather than the means, the opportunity to pause and reflect, and dig deeper into the scene. No matter how many photographs he makes, the work does not end. 

“I’ve never finished a project, generally. There were always half a dozen in the air,” he says. “It’s like really finely-tuning… How many viewpoints can I make of what I know and what I don’t know?”

King Street (tear stained), Wallasey, 1978

(Towards) Netherton, 1989

Our day out, 1982

Fashion sisters (sunglasses and platforms), 1973

101 Pictures by Tom Wood is out now on RRB Photobooks.

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