Shipbuilding on the Tyne, Bruce Rae (1983)
Nationalisation, in 1977, created British Shipbuilders to rationalise and secure the industry. By 1983 the new body had already closed half the once independent yards it managed. Now the government demanded privatisation of the rest. This was the context in which Side Gallery commissioned Bruce Rae to document the industry. I was introduced to my minder, a guy in a long, blue, gabardine mac with a flat hat, who was supposed to accompany me everywhere I went, Rae remembers. Fortunately, he got bored stiff after half a day and just disappeared… I could go anywhere I liked. It was quite extraordinary.
He captured the trades, the awe-inspiring scale, the powerful structures that appeared everywhere he looked. He documented Swan Hunter, Clark Hawthorn Marine Engine Works, Cleland’s, Neptune, Smith’s Repair and Readhead’s, the last two already in the process of closure. It’s a massive body of work and this is the first time since 1983, that the full scale of it has been exhibited.
See the online exhibition.
The Art of Shipbuilding (Amber Films, 20 mins, 2017)
In 2017, Amber Films completed a new film exploring the art of the shipyards – poet Jack Davitt (aka Ripyard Cuddling) and painter Peter Burns. With the help of poet Keith Armstrong, who published Ripyard Cuddling’s Shipyard Muddling and More Muddling, Amber explores the richness of the work, drawing on Bruce Rae’s photographs, it’s own film archive, as well as Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen’s documentation of the community of Wallsend, watching the awe-inspiring ships grow and get launched at the end of their streets.