It’s there on the cover, and in many of the pictures inside. On the horizon, in the background. Grey, brutal and ugly, it’s coming. And it’s not going to stop.
It’s coming, the smoke and the steel and concrete, but it’s not quite here yet. Here, we still have the makeshift, the ramshackle: make-do-and-mend constructions, ingeniously put together at low cost, created from what’s available. Some look like they have been built entirely from pre-used materials, the architectural equivalent of arte povera. All weathered wood, they fit with the environment, complement it, and look like a natural part of it. These improvised structures have a dilapidated beauty, compounded by a look of triumph over adversity. And each one is idiosyncratic, unique.
The noble, stoic and sombre men in this beautiful but harsh place are weatherbeaten. But they also look beaten, like they know the game is up. Only the boys raise a naïve smile. A community of fishermen still active, but now only just about scraping by.
This is the last outpost. Large-scale industry can be seen creeping into the background. It’s in our field of vision, and it’s advancing relentlessly. Big business will swallow small enterprise, and it will shatter the natural beauty of this place.
They don't peddle any nostalgia, harking back to any mythical golden past. And they may look calm and quiet, neutral and detached. But these are passionate pictures. Ian Macdonald’s lovingly-crafted photographs of almost fifty years ago might be of Greatham Creek – a small marshy area near where the Tees meets the North Sea – but they could stand for the country, the West, even the world.
Perhaps what they show is the end, when the last of the traditional makes way for the industrial, when sustainability is finally eaten by mass-scale production, consumption and environmental destruction. That pivotal moment of transition when globalised business engulfs the the small scale. When the unique is replaced by the homogenous, and the reused is supplanted by the replicated.
The very moment the individual is squeezed out by The Man.
Text and spread snaps by Simon Bowcock.
Photographs by Ian Macdonald.
Many thanks to Craig Atkinson.
Ian Macdonald's Greatham Creek 1969-1974 is published by Café Royal Books.