They push prams, carry their offspring around town, pose in feminine unity for the camera: the Mothers, Daughters, Sisters series brings together a body of work produced by Tom Wood between the early seventies and late nineties, with pictures taken on the streets and outskirts of Liverpool. We spoke with the photographer about the advantages of photography, and the desire to take a step back.
You were trained as a painter. How did you get into photography?
At the end of my first year studying painting, I was given a camera to learn how to record my paintings and to make notes for pictures; but before that I had always collected photographs and postcards. I collected postcards during school and organized them in different groups. I have lots of pictures of soldiers, and of churches and landscapes –and of mothers and daughters. I collected them in albums and considered which picture fit with another, and whether the picture was good enough.
Why do you prefer taking photos?
In college I carried on painting for a a couple of years, while doing photography in my spare time –during the evenings and on weekends. In the end photography took over. I was studying film as well, making little films; but photography came quite easy to me. That photo of the two girls outside the gentlemen’s toilet was on my second role of film! I was doing it a little bit, and then I gradually came to realize how complex it is in truth.
Why did you focus on women?
When you’re out on the street you bump into them. Especially in Liverpool–there were no men around, just women talking to kids. I went to the market in Liverpool every Saturday morning, and in the afternoon I went to watch football, which is all men. I did this every Saturday for many, many years.
Is there a photo with a special meaning?
All the best ones are like presents to me –gifts that women have given me, or allowed me to take.
How do you get close to people?
By being a regular guy. I always carried a backpack on my shoulder with prints I’d made of people at the market, and then people would ask me to take more pictures. I gave pictures away and they trusted me, and then they’d say, “My Jack is getting married in July, would you do the photos?” and I’d say, “Okay!” That’s the way it works.
Did you have a book in mind while you were working there?
No, I was photographing various projects. Everything always becomes a project: I cross the river on a ferry boat –that becomes a project. I travel on a bus –that becomes a project. I bring my kids to the pub –that becomes a project. Also the nightclub series –I just went there with friends and that became a project. In 2001 I brought the Photieman series to Arles and tried to get people interested; now publishers come to me.
When did you start using a Leica?
I used a Leica when I worked at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp in 1977 making Happy Snaps– my first photo-book (unpublished). At the time, I couldn’t afford a Leica myself. It was an old M2 with a 35mm lens- so battered it looked like it had been cleaned with wire wool. Today I like the CL because of its silent shutter. In quiet situations that’s the camera I prefer –with the old M lenses on it. But I still shoot film for medium and large format work; and I always make analogue prints from negative!
What are your next projects?
I am getting older myself; and for a long time I’ve been working on a series about old people. Another series is panoramas – of interiors and houses – that’s also been ongoing for many years. I’m also going through my video work, digitising a lot, trying to make sense of it. Now I’m planning to take a couple of years out to just take photographs –no more exhibitions, no more books, no more deadlines. The more books you do, the more exhibitions, and that all takes time. I do everything by myself, and it has become too much. So I’ll take a step back and concentrate on photographing.
The exhibition, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, will remain on display until August 25, 2019, within the framework of the Rencontres d’Arles Festival. After that it will go on tour to China to the Jimei x Arles International Photography Festival in Xiamen from November 22, 2019 to January 5, 2020.
Born in Ireland in 1951, Tom Wood studied Art at Leicester Polytechnic before turning to photography. He lectured on Photography and Fine Art in Liverpool and Wallasey. He lives today in Wales where he concentrates on photography and dealing with his archive. His first book, Looking for Love, appeared in 1989, and shows people at a nightclub in New Brighton in Merseyside. Numerous books followed, including Mères, Filles, Sœurs in 2019, published by Editions Textuel.