1980s Street Style Photographs Taken on Liverpool’s Waterways

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Above Pier Head, 1985© Tom Wood

Tom Wood spent 24 years photographing people in transit between Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula

Tom Wood’s careful observations of society are a trip back in time. Having spent many years photographing working-class Liverpool and Merseyside – its football ground, markets, transport and nightclubs – Wood’s work celebrates both the city and its inhabitants. While many photographers working during this period were capturing the industrial progression of their surroundings, Wood’s preoccupation was with Liverpool’s people. For example, those frequenting the now-demolished Chelsea Reach nightclub in his Looking For Love series, and those using the city’s transport in Bus Journeys. 

The photographer’s latest exhibition The Pier Head – currently on display at Liverpool’s Open Eye gallery – is an intimate documentation of those he encountered on his daily commute during the 25 years he lived in New Brighton. It’s during this period that Wood used his lens to capture carefully considered snapshots of society while he stood waiting for the Mersey Ferry to operate, then during the journey between Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula, and later when he arrived at the Pier Head. The result is thousands of rolls of film, and tens of thousands of photographs, over 90 of which are now on display at Open Eye – just a stone’s throw away from the Pier Head itself.

The Pier Head plays out as a series of candid shots of commuters, families, friends and different generations all making the daily journey across the river from shore to shore between 1978 and 2002. Having partaken in the journey himself, it’s Wood’s familiarity with his subject – the location and its regulars – that allows him to document the confidence of youth, the mundanity of waiting, the interactions between family members of different generations, and of course, the decaying Victorian docks that framed each aforementioned moment. Taken in a time when socio-documentary through photography was not considered the norm, Wood’s personality-lead images differed significantly to those of his contemporaries.

While many of the candid photographs chronicle the continuity and changes of the fashions of the day – teenage girls sporting pastel-hued shell suits, male Scousers with a penchant for sports brands, and Merseyside’s ever changing hairstyles – others document generational differences and social status. But these are not voyeuristic images. Rather, Wood’s work is a celebration of the place he called home. “This is an exhibition about the relationships with the recurring people and places in our daily lives,” explains Tom Dukes, curator of The Pier Head. “It’s about familiarities built during a commute – a journey through the correspondences of gazes – and an exploration of a process of waiting, destinations and points of departure.

The Pier Head runs until March 25 at Open Eye gallery, Liverpool. Termini is out now, published by Gwinzegal.