Photographer Tom Wood on 50 years of Irish Work

Tom Wood’s new book is bringing together his photographs of Ireland. He talks to us about learning about photography from old family albums and finding the necessary distance to revisit older work

“Sometimes I go to Ireland just to photograph, but it wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t have family there, you know? That was always really important to it,” says photographer Tom Wood. “The fact I don’t drive meant that I tend to stay generally mostly around the farm. It’s kind of limited me but it makes for a different kind of picture than going to the obvious places that you ‘should’ photograph really.”

His new book, plainly titled Irish Work, brings together almost 50 years of images made in his home country, between 1972 and 2019. The book is varied and unconstrained, but still captures what people have come to know and love about Wood’s work over the years, whether the formal elements such as his potent colour palettes, or simply the feeling that he’s getting in amongst it. “During that period in Ireland I was doing all those other projects, so whatever things I was learning from those was coming into whatever I did in Ireland that year,” he says.

Wood was born in Country Mayo in Ireland to a Catholic mother and Protestant father, before moving to Merseyside, where his best known work – of discos and pubs, and life on the buses and in the street – was made. “That was really lucky as well, that I ended up in Merseyside where there were so many Irish. At the women’s market on a Saturday morning, just looking at my mum, seeing some of the women’s faces – there’s a certain shared cultural sensibility, this body language. It probably helped me.”

Top: Wiring, Nephin Beg Range, 1986. Above: Plasterers on the Verge, 1987. All images © Tom Wood