Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine
Trawling for life
It’s half a century since Alec Gill took his first photographs of Hull’s Hessle Road community. Chris Bond talked to him about his remarkable photo archive.
Alec Gill says among his favourite Hessle Road photographs is one he took on Woodcock Street on April 5, 1979. “The Hessle Road area was being demolished, the houses emptied and some people just left unwanted furniture on the street,” he says. “I didn’t note down the names of these people, but it looks like a granny sitting on an abandoned settee having a ride-a-cock horse game with her granddaughter. The dog is there and seems to balance the image – and added a different dimension. It is looking straight at the camera, as is the girl. It’s just a fun scene that caught my eye, so I clicked this one photo – then moved on.”
It’s 50 years since Alec, then 24 years-old, took his first Hessle Road photo with his trusted second-hand Rolleicord twin-lens reflex camera, which he’d bought the year before for 12 quid.
His lens was trained on Hull’s former fishing community during the 1970s and 80s, and his simple, yet arresting, images capture a pre-digital world where children played games outside, corner shops were on every street and people knew the names of their neighbours.
He has written books in the past and exhibited his work and it was at one such exhibition at the Hull History Centre three years ago that archivist and writer Iranzu Baker came across his work. “When I first saw the images they blew me away, because I’m from Hull and I felt that the city was nearly always presented in a negative light, or we were never in the news for the right reasons, and his photos showed the kind of Hull I think people need to know about,” she says.
Iranzu contacted Alec to see if he was interested in working on a photobook featuring his photos of the ‘Hessle Roaders’ and he agreed. A Kickstarter campaign was launched in September with the aim of raising £17,500 to produce a print run of
500 books and ended up generating more than £22,000.
Iranzu, who grew up in Hull but now lives in London, will curate, write and edit the selfpublished book, Alex Gill’s Hessle Road archive, which is due out early next year and will feature around 200 of Alec’s photos. That may sound a lot but is in fact a drop in the ocean (or the Humber Estuary) when you think he’s amassed 6,636 Hessle Road images (of which he’s digitised more than 2,000).
“The fishing industry is such a huge part of our culture and we mustn’t forget that and these images help tell this story and capture an important part of our city’s past,” Iranzu says. “The last 18 months have shown us how important that feeling of togetherness is, so it feels like a nice time to put this project out into the world, because it is essentially about people forming a community.” Alec used a notebook to record the time, date and location of each photo and though his pictures focus on a specific community the scenes that played out were reflected in the streets of Bradford, Leeds, Halifax and just about every other industrial town and city.
Before he started photographing Hull’s fishing community, Alec had already been honing his