Tom Wood : The DPA Work
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Beginning in 1985 the Manchester-based Documentary Photography Archive (DPA) commissioned photographers to record aspects of British society in the north of England. Tom Wood’s The DPA Work explores the life and demise of two major institutions near Liverpool, Rainhill Psychiatric Hospital and Cammell Laird shipyard. Opened in 1851 as a lunatic asylum for long-term patients, by 1936 Rainhill was the largest hospital complex in Europe. Wood began photographing there in the 1980s when UK government policy had shifted from institutions towards “Care in the Community.” By then Rainhill had diminished in size and wards were often combined, mixing a range of patients. The DPA and the mental-health charity Mind, which described conditions at Rainhill as “wholly unacceptable,” asked Wood to record the hospital’s closure and the movement of its patients into the community. Cammell Laird shipyard’s illustrious history dates back to the 1820s, and includes the building of many famous warships and aircraft carriers such as HMS Ark Royal. When Wood photographed the yard it was facing closure, with a demoralized workforce fighting to save their jobs while HMS Unicorn, the last Upholder-class submarine, was being completed and launched. The two main volumes of The DPA Work include archive material related to the history of Rainhill and Cammell Laird, while a third book features a series of late nineteenth-century photographs of patients at Rainhill. Together these volumes document a time of upheaval in Liverpool in the midst of industrial decline, the breakdown of communities and changes in healthcare whose consequences are still felt today.
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