This project is a study of a small, family-owned dry dock in Newport, Wales, that is fighting market forces threatening to drive it out of business altogether. The company has been in business since the 1880's. Shipping worldwide is in decline as the costs plummet and global trade contracts, driving profits down steeply. In the current climate, cargo ships are frequently worth more as scrap than as actual ocean-going transport.
Closure of the dry dock would affect the entire local economy in this small town, taking over three hundred jobs with it, this in an area that is already economically depressed. Most of the small mom and pop businesses in the immediate vicinity are entirely dependant on the dry dock. I spent as much time as I could spare between August and November 2014 with the shipwrights, welders, painters and blasters as they went about repairing and refurbishing the dwindling number of shipping contracts that the dock was able to secure.
The dry dock has been one of the principal employers in Newport for 130 years. If it were to close the ripples felt throughout the region would have profound detrimental effects. I was specifically looking for how fear of unemployment was manifesting itself for the workers but these are very stoic Welshmen who had seen hard times before. "We will rise again", one said.
After much negotiation early in 2014 management allowed me access to the floor of the dry dock where most of the exciting stuff was going on...as long as I signed my life away. When I finally started shooting in August I knew in my bones I was going to be rewarded. I immediately realized that this was fertile ground for some arresting imagery and a good story. I go into an environment like this fully cognizant that we are so frequently defined by what we do; I see a special aura around people deeply involved in performing a task they know how to do with total expertise. This project was no different. As I developed an ease with the men I was shooting - something can only happen over time - I was witness to amazing displays of dignity and pride as they went about their work in the grimiest of settings and with the threat of unemployment hanging in the air. It's a filthy environment and also quite dangerous.
Wales, in particular, was badly affected by the financial collapse of 2008 and also one of the areas slowest to recover. The UK has been heavily dependant on the coal industry during it's industrial heyday, coal dug from the Welsh vallies.. That industry is now dead leaving this proud little nation searching for a way to bolster it's economy. There are glimmers of hope as a nacent tech industry looks to take hold in former coal towns which have few other prospects.
The recent decision of UK voters to leave the EU has thrown the entire nation into disarray. It seems an ill-considered action and many are already regretting it. Scotland seems intent on seceding entirely and remaining in the EU. The UK is at a pivotal time in it's history. With that in mind, I hope to reprise this project in a year or two and see how the dry dock has faired in life outside the European Union...if it survives at all.
I see this project as a microcosm of the country as a whole as it seeks to chart a more certain future in the face of some very bleak global trading forecasts for the years to come. Ultimately, this dry dock is a dying echo of Great Britain's great industrial past, when we built the biggest ships and made the best steel in the world. It serves as an indictor for a country that has to find a way to change or lose much of it's standing in the world.