John Myers captures the embers of industry in the Black Country

The photographer’s new book examines life during the 1980s in the West Midlands, as foundries, steel mills, and the age of industry were coming to a close

Though he’s since moved into painting and fine art, John Myers became known for his photographic work depicting facets of suburban life in Middle England during the 70s and 80s. After years of sitting unseen in his archive, his photography has recently been the focus of a trilogy of books published by RRB Photobooks, which offers a look at everyday moments in and around the West Midlands market town of Stourbridge.

The previous books in the series, Portraits and Looking at the Overlooked, make quiet observations on small town life, shining a spotlight on suburbia through portraits of its locals and sparse shots of landscapes.

Top image: Foundry worker, (No 2), 1983; This image: Bricks drying, William Mobberley Brickworks, Kingswinford, 1983. All images: © John Myers courtesy RRB Photobooks
Controlled Heat Treatments Ltd, 1983
Lathe operator, Higgins & Son, Lye, 1985

However, The End of Industry – the third and final title of the series – comprises previously unpublished work portraying a different reality, one that evokes the grittiness of everyday life for the working classes involved in local industry. The book unearths the dramatic transformation of the area and the impact left behind through rich, often intense black-and-white shots.

Myers’ lens also takes us inside these industrial spaces, and introduces us to the people working within them. In these situations lie Myers’ most cinematic shots, a result of the strong contrast created when slithers of light reach the otherwise dark interiors.

Worker. Cradley Castings, 1983
Hermit Industries, Gornal (No 1), 1983
Cradley Foundry, Quarry Bank, 1983
Round Oak Steelworks, 1988
Foundry worker, (No 2), 1983

Reflecting on the series, Myers says: “I can’t remember why I took the photographs initially. Clearly the distress, upheaval and economic chaos of the early 1980s was sufficient in itself – but it has only been recently that I have begun to realise that in their modest and incomplete way these photographs capture one of the major changes to British landscape and society in the last half of the 20th century: the end of manufacturing and the emergence of the world of warehousing, logistics, retailing and tarmac.”

The End of Industry by John Myers is published by RRB PhotoBooks; rrbphotobooks.com

GRAPHIC DESIGNER

London, EC3R

SENIOR DESIGNER

Guildford, Surrey