PHOTOGRAPHY - SS GREAT BRITAIN
After an eventful working life that included carrying over 15,000 emigrants to Australia the world’s first great ocean-going liner was scuttled and abandoned in the Falklands in 1937. The ship was towed back in 1970 and returned to the dry dock from where she was launched in 1843.
Since returning to Bristol, the vast decaying hulk has been reclaimed by enthusiasts using materials they obtained through donations, and on limited budgets. In the last four years the ship has received funding, including a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £8.4 million, for her to be systematically conserved and for the creation of a modern museum and visitor centre. During the transformation from enthusiast-led project to national heritage site, much has been gained, not least a secure future. However, inevitably during the makeover (which in this case is certainly more than skin deep), something is also lost. As the ship is meticulously sandblasted, stabilised and repainted, evidence of the enthusiasts’ work is disappearing. Old tins, mismatched paint, greasy teacups, and unsuccessful repairs are gradually vanishing, replaced by something sounder yet less eccentric.
I have been photographing the ship since September 2002. I was attracted to documenting this changing period in her history, and to the ship herself - a remarkable and evocative object and an extraordinary feat of engineering. She bears the evidence of over 160 years of weather, erosion and decay as well as the more recent 35 years of work.
I aim to make images that tell of the ship’s renaissance and evoke her working past – pictures that have associations with maps and huge distances, with travelling around the world, through thousands of nights and dark waters.
Exhibition kindly supported by:
'Reclamation' - Photographs of Brunels's SS Great Britain
16th July 2005 to 20th May 2006
The Engine Room
May 2006- September 2006
The SS Great Britain’s first engine was at the cutting edge, spearheading technological progress and creating the future. Then the engine room was filled with noise, steam, heat and sweat. Many years and thousands of miles later it was just used as a coal store, later still it was left open to the rain and seawater washed through it. Now in museum air as dry as it is in the Arizona desert the fourth and final engine has been completed 163 years after the first. Its purpose is no longer to provide locomotive power, it has been refashioned to help us look back in time
The photographs in this exhibition aim to document recent changes and to evoke the atmosphere and past of the engine room
Luke Salaman, May 2006