Julian Germain. Steel Works

The British city of Consett was a thriving industrial hub for more than 150 years. In 1980 the steel and iron works were shut down, leading to the biggest demolishing project in Europe at the time. Germain documents the effects of the unemployment and demoralisation for the people that lived there, with the rise of the new industry, food production.

The images clearly present the downfall of the male industry and the rise of the women working in the new factories. The men are seen to stare at their past, unsure of their future. Women are photographed outside, enjoyed their new lives. Through the emotions of the subjects in these images we are shown the impact on a whole community.

Germain uses a scrap book lay out, to present the history of the area. Images from photographers such as Don McCullin and Tommy Harris, and journalistic text, are used to truly define the change, as Germains photographs are only taken between 1986 – 1990, after the downfall. This casual scrap book approach also allows a wider audience, it is easy to look at and understand.

Unlike in the family snaps and in Tommy Harris’s local press photos, Germain’s subjects rarely look you in the eye. Brassy colours conceal emptiness and would seem to urge temporary gratification. Colour-gloss itself becomes Germain’s metaphor for what has been sacrificed in moving from a black-and-white world to a full colour one. And the result is that there is nothing left of the naïvity and hopeful enthusiasm which shouts from every picture Tommy Harris ever took. Germain’s gaudy colours alert us to the ‘esprit de corps’ and deep personal bonds that have vanished and for whose loss the steelworks closure is only a symbol” David Lee, from the introduction of ‘Steel Works. Consett, from steel to tortilla chips’, Why Not Publishing, 1990.

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The use of colour is complementary to the theme of the project, the change in the area. Throughout the project the highlights in the prints are strong, but most noticeably when they are used on images of the men and children. These are the two subjects that will experience the detrimental effects from the downfall of the industry, with the men out of work and the children with an unstable future. Here you see the white highlights trapping the 19man inside his home, staring out in despair. Without these strong highlights, I dont think the frame would have such a powerful affect on the viewer. With the children, the contrast between the black and white makes me feel very un nerved. Although the subject of the frame is naturally uneasy, with the child and the guns, with an elder looking down on him, I feel the strong red colour and the bold contrast completes the frame and emphasises the meaning. Where as with the women, the colours are seen17 to be at there advantage, as they gain jobs and meaning to their lives. The colours emphasise the joyfulness of their experience, but also seem rather cynical against how the colours are used for the other subjects. It makes you feel emotive towards the males and children, as the women seem unaware and carry on with their lives.

I feel that the key components of this project are the colour and use of different subjects. The intentions of each subject is clearly separated to tell the narrative of how the whole community is changing.

The images that you can view online, look very different from when you view them in the book. In the book, they set the scene with space and captions, and the text is really relevant to the theme. Although the text explains how the book also documents the change in photography, but looking at a colour documentary now this doesn’t seem unusual. But published in 1990 at the time it was a big change in how people saw photographs, which can be seen from the historic photos used in a news form, contrasting against Germains documentary style images.

Julian Germain, Steelworks
http://www.juliangermain.com/projects/steelworks18.php
http://www.photobookstore.co.uk/photobook-steelworks-consett-_from-steel-to-tortilla-chips%5E.html#.WJjiYIXXK8w

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