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Setting the record straight

ICE news

A new book cataloguing the best early photographs from the ICE's archives has been put together by photographer Michael Collins.

MOST PHOTOGRAPHERS would rather point their cameras at Hollywood starlets than the new M6 toll motorway. But writer and photographer Michael Collins had had enough of taking pictures where the image created was more important than the subject matter.

'I worked on magazines where editors would say, 'Angelina Jolie's being featured - yeah she looks great ? what's she got to say? Not a lot, but she'll make a great cover', ' recalls Collins.

After 10 years as picture editor on teen magazine, Just 17, Hello and the Observer Magazine, Collins' appreciation for photographing less obviously beautiful subjects began to grow.

Inspired by German industrial photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher, Collins left the mainstream media in 1996 in search of authentic record pictures - photographs 'whose fundamental purpose was to provide an accurate, unbiased and unequivocal description'.

Part of Collins' research into this genre led to exploring the ICE's archive and tapping into the wealth of knowledge held by head librarian Mike Chrimes.

'When Mike took out those photos, on paper as thin as gold leaf, it was like someone had shown me Leonardo's originals, ' recalls Collins.

Chrimes was showing Collins the 19th century photographs of past ICE president Charles Blacker Vignoles' Bahia and Sao Francisco railway. The next two years saw Collins trawling through hundreds of photographs in the ICE archives for his book, Record Pictures.

Record pictures of civil engineering construction were traditionally taken for project financiers to provide evidence of work being carried out. They were taken on large format plate cameras to capture the scale and detail of the schemes.

The stark, industrial photographs in the book capture a moment in time when British engineers were transforming the landscape in the UK and around the world.

'My pictures might be void of people, but they're full of life. What I'm showing is the unfinished article - before architects cover them up, ' says Collins.

Some of the highlights of the book include construction of the Forth and Clyde railway in 1870, River Severn Railway Bridge in 1877, Darjeeling Himalayan Mountain Railway in 1883 and Battersea Power Station in 1939.

Collins himself travels around the UK taking photographs of civil engineering projects such as the M6 toll motorway, Docklands Light Railway and the Channel Tunnel Rail link.

'King's Cross is a hidden world - a great combination of order and chaos where you can see the landscape being undressed and refashioned. You have the 19th century graves and cobbled streets under the 20th century tarmac under a 21st century railway - they're the handprints of life on earth, ' says Collins excitedly.

His photographs of roads have captured the most critical acclaim in the art world as they conjure up the most emotion - the long and winding road. They have also been the most difficult to take, requiring London based Collins to travel to the location the night before to catch the sites early in the morning when there is sufficient light, but no people.

He has already secured Arts Council funding to support his venture to locate more record pictures and is in talks with London's Photographers Gallery to exhibit his own work.

Collins is also putting together a book of Liverpool City Engineers' archives covering the construction of the first ring road and the first trams and sewers in the city. The book is due to be published by 2008 to coincide with city's year as the European City of Culture.

But this and other collections depend on the success of Record Pictures - available for just £25.50 to ICE members before 31 December.

The book is available from the ICE bookshop or can be ordered online from www. thomastelford. com.

lThe new ICE gift range is now available and includes business card cases and an engraved crystal paperweight. All items can be ordered online at www. ice. org. uk/gifts, or by calling (01892) 832 299.

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