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Video transcript

Transcript of the video clips of an interview with Stephen Shakeshaft.

Becoming an apprentice photographer

"School days weren't my favourite days, I didn't enjoy school, I hated school and I was glad to get out of it, so I started work when I was sixteen. I found myself as a copy boy and that was interesting because the Liverpool Echo sold nearly half a million copies a night and was being sold on the streets and on every street corner. I thought this was great to work for someone like this, the energy. And the chance came for me to move in to another department which involved me working in the photographic department, where I was in charge of selling photographs to the public, people would come in, see a picture in the newspaper and want to buy it. So consequently I spent as much time in the dark room sorting negatives out as I did downstairs and I really loved it. I got an apprenticeship then with the Echo as a trainee photographer and I went off on a training course and I found myself within a fortnight going out on jobs with my camera and the chief photographer said 'right there's your gear' and he gave me a 5-4 plate camera, which is in the exhibition, it's very heavy and it opens up with bellows, it's very difficult to hold and in the back of it had to placed a wooden frame which carried two glass slides, so you'd slide back the piece of slide and that would expose the plate to the lens, as soon as you set the exposure and pressed the shutter."

Working at the Echo

"I loved the dark room, I loved having brown nails from the developer and it was great to have my own camera and suddenly to be going out meeting people but I was also introduced to an amazing set of characters who were reporters in the newsroom and I remember one guy whenever he got annoyed he would reach down and bring a violin out of its case and he'd sit at his typewriter and play the violin to calm himself and my first editor was a ferocious man and I remember the photograph being in the Echo and there was a caption mistake on a wrong name and the news editor said to me 'the editor wants to see you'. I was, I think seventeen and I, no one saw the editor, he was one of these people you never spoke to, everyone was afraid of the editor, I went into his office and he said 'You've made a mistake on your caption and it's gone into the Liverpool Echo and I don't allow these things to happen, how did it happen, I want an explanation and I want it now' I said 'sorry' I said 'I didn't make the mistake I think it's the mistake of a sub-editor' 'No it's the mistake of a photographer' and as he was talking to me he was, he had, his face got redder and redder and he reached into the drawer staring at me, brought a pair of scissors out and started cutting his hair as he was talking to me and pieces of his hair were falling on the desk I thought I've entered a madhouse..."

Capturing everyday Liverpool

"Newspapers had a lot more space to fill and fortunately for me the Daily Post and Echo loved newspaper pictures so I had a lot of my pictures published just purely because it was a picture that appealed to, at that time of Liverpool, it didn't have a story to it, it was just a picture that happened to be an interesting photograph and a lot of my work was printed in the paper that I'd done myself which, it was lovely for me and quite often I was asked by an editor to just go out. I remember once an editor saying 'Just go out for a week and walk round Liverpool and do me some pictures of how you see it', I like doing that, that's really rewarding but a lot of the pictures I've found haven't been in the paper. I look on the pictures with a nostalgic eye because I hope these pictures show Liverpool as it was, perhaps how it is a little bit now but certainly that went through that changing period before all the politics of the city changed things, before all the new buildings came, everyday life in Liverpool where people got on with things and perhaps they didn't expect as much because I often used to think when these houses were being pulled down, which was almost a regular daily occurrence, where were the people going to go to, how were communities going to survive when they're moved somewhere else and they didn't, they fragmented and we looked at Skelmersdale, we looked at Kirkby, which was a great idea to move people to bathrooms and modern housing but the community spirit didn't go with it and Liverpool was a very much a community spirit city, streets very much lived as one big family and you go down, I mean I'd drive down a street in Dingle for example and you'd only have to say you were from the local newspaper and you were welcomed straight away into people's homes, it used to amaze me how pleasant and tolerant and welcoming people were but it was the humility of Liverpool people that I found interesting. There is luck in where you go but you make your own luck in a way and I believe if you are a professional photographer and you have to earn your living from it, you have a camera around your neck and if you can restrict your photography to having a camera which you're happy with, that you can pick up quickly and know it's going to work properly, there's usually film in it, hopefully, and you can, you're then, you're ready for whatever you see in front of you."

Memories of the Liverpool docks

"There was nearly a ship in every dock in the sixties early seventies and of course the docks were full of characters. So I'd pull my car in and just wander around and if there was a ship being unloaded and take a few pictures, have a few things said to me that shouldn't have been said, told where I should put my camera sometimes but mainly you just sort of melted in and I got some of the photographs around the exhibition are just the dockers at work or some of the characters, they all had great stories, the repartee was fantastic, the language was fruity and it was just an incredible place, it was like a living museum the docks really. The Dockers marched for their jobs and years later I did all the dock marches, I mean it was sad to see how it changed so much because it was such a back bone of Liverpool and such a wonderful way of life, and then Seaforth was built and we heard about containers and we saw the docks disappearing. I realise I have a certain amount of romance about it but I like to think that Liverpool then, it was a privilege to work in that city, in the city then and to see those kind of things happening although we didn't realise then it was."

The changing face of Mathew Street and the city in general

"There were two places that were very difficult to take photographs in, that was the Cavern and the wash house, simply because soon as you walked in it was so hot the lens condensed so you had to stand around for twenty minutes, so I thought if I'm ever going down the Cavern I'll put my camera in the drying cabinet for ten minutes and then put it under my shirt and wrap it in my coat before I even went in, I did that in the wash house because your lens doesn't steam up as much. I loved it because, can you imagine people carrying their washing to somewhere to wash it today, I mean if you tried to tell the younger generation today that people would carry washing in a barrow in front of them, or on their shoulders and they'd go to a public wash house in Limekiln Lane and they'd stand there and there's this bubbling steaming atmosphere, it was almost Dickensian and the fact that people, the atmosphere and everyone would know each other, everyone had nicknames for each other, people would shout very loudly through all this steam and bubbling 'Lily your wash is ready' or something you know, they were great places for pictures again. And then we went from sixties into the seventies with that little street, which I remember full of fruit lorries and fruit boxes, suddenly changing its whole personality in to Punk and we had Eric's which opened almost opposite and I used to always think that's really incredible for a small street like Mathew Street to be of such a significant importance to music through the sixties and seventies yet it happened in that narrow little corner of Liverpool and again lunchtime you had punks sitting on the pavement outside, lines of them, great pictures. I didn't go out thinking I am now going to archive Liverpool so one day people will say 'oh that was interesting', you just took pictures because they were interesting and that's what I did each day, I loved being a photographer, it's fabulous, and being a photographer in Liverpool, great city to take pictures in and I never wanted to really move from Liverpool. I very much wanted to stay in Liverpool, I'm glad I did... it is a magical city."