If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’ll know that, aside from our work and my life with Sarah, one of the main things I do is walk around photographing things. Sometimes extraordinary, like a magnificent landscape, a surprising wildflower or the new baby goslings on the lake. But more often I delight in the ordinary. Knowing that the ordinary is as temporary as everything else and, one day, is as likely to delight or interest us as anything else is. Like, if you were to offer to show me the following two photographs or ones of the Grand Canyon or somewhere else I’ve never been, most days I’d say ‘Show me the Garston ones.’
Sometimes I’ll capture the ordinary shortly before I know it’s going. Or occasionally I’ll capture it accidentally.
Little realising the above Ferry Terminal and Restaurant building would so soon be replaced by something equally brutal that I haven’t yet bothered to photograph.
Well today I’ve been reading a book by someone who’s spent his whole life doing much the same thing. Photographing parts of Liverpool hardly anyone else has bothered to.
A few more of my ‘ordinary’ photos though, before we get on to him.
Like a few weeks ago, walking through the damage a recent ‘renovation’ scheme has done to an area of Liverpool near to where we live.
The building that Quiggins was in, part of it anyway, still stands as part of ‘Liverpool One’. But it contains nothing and no one that Quiggins contained back then, in all of its ragged glory.
You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? Sometimes you do.
On the other hand?
Which brings me to Freddy O’Connor, if for no other reason than he lives in Anfield. Because Freddy, you see, has been doing the kind of thing I do since 1961. And not swanning around with a digital camera and immediately uploading his pictures to whatever a blog would turn out to be. Here’s his brother Frankie, a broadcaster on BBC Radio Merseyside talking about him:
“1961 was the year my younger brother Freddy first pointed his old Box Brownie camera at a subject so close to his heart: ‘the streets of Liverpool’. He was just 13 years old.
Fast forward to 1983, when I called at his home in Anfield, where he still lives, for our usual walk through Stanley Park to Goodison Park and the football match. This particular day Freddy showed me several scrapbook albums containing all his photographs, laid out in order of date, district, year etc. A light went on in my head as I realised that this unique collection could possibly be turned into a local history book.”
And so it was. No ‘proper’ publishers would touch it, so they raised the money and published it themselves as ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down’ in 1986. And it had a good life in the more independent minded book shops, and sold by the brothers themselves a while back from a trolley at the Albert Dock. But then it went out of print for 20 years.
Until now it’s come back out in a splendid new edition, keeping the 1986 text but with revisions and updates showing what’s happened since. And some beautiful older photographs showing our mutually beloved place before Freddy began his photographic journey in 1961.
I don’t want to show you too much of this treasure trove of ordinary things, the places where people have lived or worked, because the photos belong to Freddy. And because I think that if you have any interest in the history and future of Liverpool you should buy it or order it from your library. But I’ve got to show you some – to encourage you to go and get the book and because they feel, in a way, personal to me.
This is part of where I’m from. My mother’s family would move from here, up to Marsh Avenue off Southport Road in Bootle, where she grew up in the 1930s and 40s. But this is where she’s from, down by the docks. And she once told me that she’d often go back here with her own mother ‘To visit our Italian relatives, who still lived there.’ The family name was Gerrard. Still a popular name around Liverpool!
When I was a baby in the 1950s we lived just around the corner from here, in Diana Street, by Everton’s football ground. And seeing this photograph I realised that being wheeled past these fascinating houses, with shops underneath, is one of my earliest baby memories.My first proper job was working in a City Council housing office in Benledi Street, off Scotland Road. I was there in 1972 and 73, and we were still managing St Martin’s Cottages. I had no idea then how significant they were.
We managed Lawrence Gardens too. Just along Scotland Road from our office was a huge building site and hole in the ground, that was the emerging tunnel. And right in the middle of it all stood Lawrence Gardens, with one remaining elderly tenant who refused to move out. In the evening when I finished work I’d see her one light shining in the middle of all the devastation. And she’d regularly make her way across the rubble to tell us she wasn’t going to be moved. But in the end of course she was. And I often think of her even now as we drive into the tunnel through what was once Lawrence Gardens.
This was how the Cathedral looked when I first got to know it, around 1973. Looking like a great cathedral should, I always thought, with people clustered around it. The houses were gone soon after.
And finally from ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down’ – remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about the Georgian area of Canning once stretching much further than it does now?
All for a ring road that never came. If we’d kept it and renovated it then it would have looked something like the far end of Huskisson Street does now.
So I think it matters, this photographing the streets. And I’m so glad to have this new edition of Freddy O’Connor’s book to add to my collection of essential Liverpool books. It’s more than just a worthy addition, in fact I’ll treasure it. Because the photos above are just a sample of the hundreds the book contains. Photographs of the real Liverpool, where people have lived and worked. I commend it to you.
Mind you, this ‘photographing ordinary things’ doesn’t pass without comment sometimes. Picture this, it’s a sunny day a few weeks ago and, approaching the junction of Smithdown Road and Lodge Lane I’m particularly struck by the image of the Catholic Cathedral appearing over the hill, so I take a photograph. As I do so my musings are interrupted by the harsh laughter of a passing couple. They are laughing at me.
“What the effing hell is he taking a picture of the effing road for?’ she cackles, as they walk on.”
And OK it’s not the best photograph I’ve ever taken, but one day – when time has happened – it will be interesting, like all photographs of ordinary things. Ordinary is our life.
I bought my copy of ‘Liverpool, It all came tumbling down‘ at Linghams (Independent Bookshop of the year, 2013) and I’m absolutely sure it will also be available in News From Nowhere in Liverpool or your library (ISBN 978 1 906823 70 2, Published by Countyvise, Birkenhead).