Meeting with photographer Andy McGeechan

Me and Andy McGeecham

Me and Andy McGeechan

Having made a general plan and a basis of research for this brief, I hoped to find a worthwhile focus. The areas I want to explore: unemployment, politics, changes in landscapes, which have affected the changes within society and the people within Coventry are quite open to many deviations and locations within this planned city. It gives me a broad understanding, which I need to narrow but nonetheless, it offers a good basis to start from.

To reduce these ideas for the brief into something more concise and constructive I met and chat extensively, or rather he spoke extensively whilst I listened attentively, to Andy McGeechan, a photographer, with an extensive, almost envious knowledge on Coventry and it’s history.  Andy is one of those rare people with an innate intelligence; speech and fact intertwine with such fluidity it’s as if one is listening to an open encyclopedia. His mind and reactions to the spaces that surround him are like an intricate web of information, possessing the ability to jump from one topic to the next with ease whilst still maintaining the initial topic of conversation.

To get the ball rolling and to limit his capacity to talk about the entire history of Coventry, I informed him on what topics I did want to discuss and focus on. I introduced Andy to my initial plan and the key themes I hoped to explore for the brief: industrialization: the factories, workers, World War II, with reference to Coventry Cathedral perhaps, unemployment, politics: the rise of the Labour party and Maggie Thatcher, modern Coventry and building developments, such as Coventry University and how these changes, both in the landscape and socially have had an affect and changed the people of Coventry. I wanted to discuss the up, down motion Coventry has been summoned to and the affects this has had on society. Once high, then low, than high, than low then building high again, the decline and rise of work, building developments and the people of Coventry has been a whirlwind extravagance.

Andy recommended I read and took reference from four different books. The main book being, ‘Twentieth Century Coventry’ by Kenneth Richardson, which discusses Coventry’s industrial history and buildings in depth, as well as the war, planning and the people of Coventry.  It describes the rise and fall of the people of Coventry reflecting the equally tumultuous industries and developments. George Demidowicz titles the next book, ‘A Guide to the Buildings of Coventry’ which Andy pointed out, ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. Andy flicked through the pages of this glorious little book, filled with historic photographs, dates and names, admitting it’s ‘slightly exhaustive but incredibly thorough and interesting!’ Another book with similar attributes is titled, ‘The Buildings of England: Warwickshire’ by Nicholas Pevsner and Alexandra Wedgwood, which explores the history of the buildings and landscapes of Coventry and Warwickshire. The final reference is a fold out type book named, ‘Coventry and Kenilworth, Cassini Maps’. The book holds different maps of Coventry from different decades and centuries, showing in vivid detail growth comparisons of this planned city. As you flick through and inevitably draw comparisons between these different maps, you fall witness to how Coventry has been catapulted into one of the great English cities! You see how Coventry’s industries have expanded as well as transportation becoming poignant, as Coventry is now central to many of Britain’s main cities.

After looking through the books, in particular the Cassini Maps and Twentieth Century Coventry, Andy offered some information on the buildings, which could be of interest and hold many of the themes I hope to explore. He spoke of the histories of certain buildings. This included buildings which were once the leading factories and main breadwinners, such as Iceland which was once Rover car factory with capsulated frontages which were scrubbed out in the 1950’s. He spoke of the university buildings, in particular William Morris and Ellen Terry. He went onto the shadow factories, Jaguar and Peugeot and how the factories were dispersed to the outer sides of the city during the war so they would not be destroyed, such as to Allesley and Canley. Andy suggested that if I wanted to learn more about the main industries that being the manufacturing, cars and engineering industries, was to visit the Transport Museum, to gain more information and fact about the leading manufactures and factories through the history of Coventry.

Andy also offered information how the changes within governments and war changed the landscapes and people within Coventry. He described how Coventry was once, ‘shimmering’ full of hope, work and money. Despite being dimmed through the tragedies of war, Coventry and its people remained determined and carried on. However, changes in government, modern life and the failures of many industries caused a paramount shift. People became unemployed, meaning more people relied on doll money and crime rates increased. The city lost finances, the rush of the golden age, so could no longer fund projects to improve and rebuild the city. Yet despite all this the city still had hope. Due to modern technology and the importance of education forever increasing the city has become and is still evolving into a great city. Universities, museums and the arts have coloured the city whilst its people are reflecting these new excitements.

The conversation gave me much food for thought and Andy tipped me to explore certain buildings within the city but the gaps and so on I must fill in alone!

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