Colin Thomas — Wrexham Leisure

Colin Thomas is a documentary photographer based in Telford, Shropshire. The Café Royal publication, released today, Wrexham Leisure 1982—1984, features work from his Event project which was exhibited at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool in 1983.
Colin sent this text to help place his work:

I’ve owned a camera since my early teens but photography was just one of several interests. It became my main interest when I discovered the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool,in the late 1970s. The exhibitions inspired me, especially work by documentary photographers and for the first time I realised how powerful photography can be. I started educating myself with the help of monographs of photographers such as Tony Ray-Jones, Ray Moore and David Hurn.

I earned my living as a civil servant and moved, with my job, from Merseyside to Wrexham, North Wales in 1979 and the photographs in Event were all taken in the early 1980’s. It was the first time I’d worked on a series of photographs.

Shortly after our arrival my wife and I were invited to participate in an inter-street rounders match and a fancy dress charity evening. It was a great way of getting to know our new neighbours and despite having just moved into the area everything seemed familiar to me.

I grew up on a council estate on the outskirts of Aberystwyth, Mid Wales. It was a close-knit community and the regular organised events helped maintain and strengthen it. Many of my earliest recollections are of my family taking part in village activities. My father managed the local football team and I can remember my mother playing in a Ladies Cricket tournament and singing a couple of numbers at the Women’s Institute concert. I also recall the day I was pageboy to the Carnival Queen; I was reluctant to get dressed up but there was a box of chocolates on offer from the carnival committee so I was easily persuaded.

In Wrexham I rediscovered my love of community events and found plenty taking place in the area. It was, and still is, difficult for me to point my camera at someone. To get the photos I wanted I knew I had to work with a wideangle lens and get close. The more I worked the easier it got and I found that a lot of people assumed I was working for the local press because I had two, sometimes three, cameras around my neck. In 1982 the Open Eye gallery put up a couple of commissions for photographers and I applied and was accepted. The gallery was run by Neil Burgess and Derek Massey and they gave me valuable advice and encouragement. There was only a small amount of money involved but the exhibition deadline motivated me to work harder. Looking back I realise it was an ideal photographic project for me to cut my teeth on.

Stephen McCoy

I guess there are two phases to my career as a photographer: The first phase was as an educator, teaching part time at several colleges in the north-west, ending up as a full-time programme manager at Hugh Baird college in Bootle.
During this phase I worked on several projects and in roughly chronological order (although some did overlap) they were:

Pleasureland”: photographs of Southport fair out of season shot on 5×4 in black and white.

Keep off Sexy Drugs — Steve McCoy

Housing Estates”: photographs divided into four discrete sets that showed an evolution of approach to the same subject. Set1: 35mm graphic, contrasty black and white images. Set2: 35mm grey and understated black and white. Set3: 5×4 black and white and Set4: 5×4 colour.

Stephen McCoy

Demolition Sites”: 5×4 black and white photographs of areas of ground either where buildings were being demolished or where buildings had been demolished some time in the past.

Skelmersdale”: 5×4 black and white photographs of the people and environs of Skelmersdale built as a satellite new town, twenty miles from Liverpool. The now defunct Merseyside Arts employed me as a photographer in residence and I worked there for one day a week for twelve weeks. (I continued with the project after the funding finished.)

Stephen McCoy

The Plight of the Trolley”: medium format ,semi-humorous colour photographs of abandoned shopping trolleys.

Personal Space”: 35mm black and white photographs showing the quirky nature of modern family life.

River to River” colour 5×4 photographs of the coastline from the River Ribble to the River Mersey

The above work was variously exhibited and published at The Open Eye Gallery, Impressions York, The Bluecoat, Liverpool, The Atkinson, Southport, North-West photography Group shows, British Journal of Photography, Creative Camera.

Café Royal Books have printed: Skelmersdale and Housing Estates. Pleasureland is released today.

The second phase began in 1997 when Stephanie Wynne and myself formed the collaborative partnership: McCoy Wynne. We built up a successful commercial practice and were able to leave teaching in 2005, concentrating on commissioned work but also collaborating on personal projects, a selection of which are listed below. This second phase coincided with the increased use of digital techniques: another re-invention of photography.

Quiescence”: a study of dormant spaces was our first large project exhibited in 2008 and this led to McCoy Wynne being shortlisted for The Liverpool Art Prize in 2009 for: “An Avian Presence”

Bingo and Burial”: was exhibited as part of Liverpool Look 11 photofestival and we re-photographed from the original viewpoints of my demolition site photographs taken in the 1980’s.

Gulls”: photographs of the flight patterns of birds disturbed at night within the urban environment and exhibited at The University of Liverpool and recently at The University Centre, Blackpool.

Triangulation”: a long-term project to photograph all 310 triangulation pillars which will also provide a survey of the British landscape, exhibited as part of Liverpool Look 13 photofestival.

A further ongoing project “The Urban Forest” has also been recently exhibited.

The projects listed above, although varied in subject matter, all have a grounding in notions of documentary photography. We do not tend to photograph “events” or feel we take photographs that are “reportage” or “journalistic”. At the risk of sounding pretentious we consider ourselves to be conceptual documentary photographers.

Our concerns are more long term and we like to work on projects over several years. The acceptance of the factual nature of documentary photography is ideally suited to portraying the passage of time and the revival of some of my archival projects by Café Royal Books has highlighted how photographs, which were once contemporary, have become historical documents.

It’s also worth noting that very few of the projects have people as the major subject. We are more interested in environments, landscapes and artefacts. We have never felt entirely comfortable photographing strangers and no matter how careful one is there will always be some elements of exploitation.

Stephen McCoy 2015

Images below are from titles published by Café Royal Books.