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Artists showcase industrial heritage at the Black Country Echoes Festival

Photographs can take you into another world, dropping you directly into a time and place you would otherwise have no other way of making a visual connection with.

Artists showcase industrial heritage at the Black Country Echoes Festival

They bring to life stories of times gone by and give future generations an idea of how things have changed, from the dress sense of the general public to the landscape of their home-town.

The industrial heritage of the Black Country in the 60s and 70s.

Molten steel is poured by workers at Bilston Steelworks by Nick Hedges
A watercolour by Arthur Lockwood at Cradley Castings Ltd. Draining slag from the furnace

What the Black Country lacked in glitz and glamour it made up for in personality and heart.

An image from John Bulmer's Black Country series taken in Tipton and Bilston in 1961
'Blitz and the furnaces' a photograph taken at Bilston Steelworks by Nick Hedges

This is the verdict of a team of renowned photographers and artists who visited the region in the 60s and 70s and whose work has been used to created a unique visual archive of the industrial heritage of the area in its heyday.

Photographer Nick Hedges

The Black Country Echoes Festival has brought together the work of photographers Nick Hedges, John Bulmer, Peter Donnelly and artist Arthur Lockwood as well as images from the West Bromwich based Jubilee Arts Archives to create the Black Country Echoes: In Pictures exhibition featuring their works projected, supersized, onto the walls of the Light House Gallery.

Steel pourers are caught relaxing on camera in 1961 by John Bulmer
Artist Brendan Jackson, from the Jubilee Arts Archives
Watercolourist Arthur Lockwood
Photographer John Bulmer

And in what is deemed a huge coupe for organisers, they were brought together at the Light House Centre in Wolverhampton's iconic Chubb building to talk about the social significance of their work and how the region has changed over time in a round table discussion.

Herefordshire native John Bulmer, who made his name as a pioneer of colour photography at the Sunday Times Magazine, recalled his time in the Black Country, saying: "Photography has taken me all over the world and to me, the Black Country was exotic.

"It was different to where I cam from, the whole look of the area was so completely alien to me.

"I came down in the winter of 1961, commissioned by Town Magazine to travel around parts of Tipton and Bilston, photographing factories, street corners, canals, pubs and peoples homes.

"During that year I had visited other industrial areas, mainly in the north of England, but what struck me about the Black Country was how warm the people were.

"I tended to just follow my nose after a little while because everyone was trustworthy and welcoming.

"People seemed humbled that I would want to take photographs of them.

"I would go into a factory, where people were hard at work, take photographs of them and there would be no suspicion as to why I was there.

"People invited me to their homes or down the pub with them after work.

"What I ended up with was an unarguably realistic portrayal of where I had been."

Photographs are a permanent presence in our daily lives in 2014.

The evolution of mobile phone cameras, coupled with the outlets for photographs presented by social media, has given birth to a generation of do it yourself photographers.

Whether stored on a 'cloud' or a hard drive, its safe to say future generations will have plenty of visual reference points when discussing the world in 2014.

The Black Country Echoes festival which launched in September includes 27 exhibitions and 87 events in more than 25 venues across Wolverhampton, Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley, looking at how the area's industrial heriatge has shaped the architecture, social, cultural and economic landscape to create the distinctive character of the Black Country.

Water colourartist Arthur Lockwood, from Birmingham, has spent decades painting the industrial buildings that were the lifeblood of the West Midlands for so long.

His body of work is an artistic record of the working life in and around the manufacturing industries of the Black Country over 40 years.

Mr Lockwood said: "Changes are always going to happen, that is the nature of the world, but I wanted to ensure that the memory of these places were never lost.

"Once a building is knocked down it is gone and the only way to keep its memory alive is to capture it while it still exists.

"Most of the factories that I used as focus points for my work are business parks now.

"My main aim was to provide a record of things that interested me."

Nick Hedges, who was born in Bromsgrove and studied photography at Birmingham College of Art returned to the Midlands for a two year photographic documentation of factory work in 1972 after moving to London to work for homeless support charity Shelter.

He said: "All I would hear about the Black Country when I moved away were stories about strikes.

"Their was undoubtedly turmoil and constant dissatisfaction with wages.

"I knew there was a core of industrial work going on here that was something to be proud of but all you would hear was negativity.

"There was no mention of the hard work people would be putting into their jobs everyday.

A Black Country street by John Bulmer

"I was determined that someone needed to make a record of what people did at work and challenge the view that the areas industrial history was in turmoil."

The idea of context was discussed as being crucial to identifying the merits of a photograph.

Brendan Jackson, representing the Jubilee Arts Archive, said his organisation's work with community art and photography, which began in 1974, showed the changing neighbourhoods and communities in what he described as a 'chaotic and creative' time.

His work set about offering a more balanced perspective of an area that had been lambasted in the media.

A John Bulmer image from the streets

One article, titled 'Black Country Blues - Ghetto Britain' was cited as an example of a piece that set about igniting his desire to give the area a more balanced representation.

Mr Jackson said: "Any publicity that came out about the Black Country in the early 70s seemed to be negative.

"People and photographers were coming here with an agenda that they had already made up their mind about.

"What the Jubilee Arts Archive did was give real people a chance to respond in an artistic way.

"We worked with people and created a dialogue and an element of trust with them.

"The pictures couldn't always be pretty, that's not the way things were, but we gave people a voice, they were involved with the work.

"Jubilee Arts was an organisation that championed the need for communities to have control of their representation by challenging negative stereotypes and sharing aspects of their life experiences and achievements"

The Black Country has seen its fair of change, which is not unusual.

Nothing can stay the same forever and while the region moves forward so it can keep pace with the modern world, these images capture an important period in its past.

They will serve as a reminder for many years to come of the values and the traditions which have served Black Country people in good stead.

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