Prospect of Skelmersdale, McCoy Wynne and the Magnetic North

Shutter Hub members Stephen McCoy and Stephanie Wynne have been working with the band The Magnetic North on a project which sees a collaboration between the photographic and musical, based around the band's new album Prospect Of Skelmersdale. This is the story of how it came about and how it developed…


In 1984 photographer Stephen McCoy was commissioned by the now defunct organisation Merseyside Arts to work as a “photographer in residence” in Skelmersdale based at Skelmersdale College. The commission lasted one day a week for 3 months but McCoy continued to work in the town through most of a year.

Skelmersdale was designated a “New Town” in 1961, designed to house overspill populations from the north Merseyside conurbation. With the economic downturn in the late 1970s large industrial employers left the town en masse, resulting in an increase in crime, drug abuse and poverty. Since 2006 efforts have been made to reverse this decline.

The photography followed on from McCoy’s interest in Housing Estates and Skelmersdale provided a counterpoint to his work with more middle class suburbs. Using a 5×4 view camera he began to photograph the landscape and people of the town and when completed the work was exhibited in a couple of local venues.

The work was then archived and McCoy embarked on a career as a commercial photographer specialising in architecture and portraiture, forming the successful partnership “McCoy Wynne” with photographer Stephanie Wynne. They both collaborate on personal projects in addition to working on commercial assignments.

The Skelmersdale photographs of 1984 gained renewed significance when published by Café Royal books in 2014 and subsequently through the current collaboration with British musical trio The Magnetic North. Their first album is set in the Orkney Islands, the birthplace of singer Erland Cooper, and explores the landscape, history and people. Their second album follows this narrative thread, this time with Skelmersdale as a backdrop, where guitarist Simon Tong was raised. This album became Prospect of Skelmersdale.

In their search for the right photographer with whom to collaborate on Prospect of Skelmersdale, Cooper came upon an evocative image of a young boy taken in Digmoor shopping parade, Skelmersdale in 1984. It was one of Stephen McCoy’s archived images. Erland immediately approached Stephen McCoy and three days later the band, along with McCoy and Stephanie Wynne were on location in Skelmersdale shooting a series of press photos.

The resulting art direction for Prospect of Skelmersdale combines the McCoy Wynne photographs of the band, with selections from Stephen McCoy’s 1984 series. As does the music, the photographs capture a unique and seldom-documented time and place in British history; the finished work is a remarkable achievement.

The work from Skelmersdale 1984 will go on display during the bands live music concerts and has been published in the first issue of Rough Trade magazine.

The recent, collaborative use of work, which Stephen McCoy had consigned to “deep storage” !, has added to the recent debate about the worth of photographer’s archives.

Stephen McCoy recently gave a talk about archive work and collaboration at The Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool and raised several points for discussion, which may be of interest here:

  • – How old does work have to be before it is considered an “archive” ?

  • – The work becomes transformed by time from contemporary to historical

  • – Digital techniques have allowed for the re-invigoration of archive work shot on film through scanning and re-touching.

  • – Should photographers revisit their older work often and revaluate by comparison their current practise ?

  • – Predictions can never be made about the future use of older images

  • – Be careful of the saying “ The older I get the better I used to be” !

  • – Nostalgia can distort the original intentions of the photography

  • – Should photographers irrevocably dispose of their archive work ?

  • – Is photography the best medium to show the passage of time ?


You can find out more about The Magnetic North at their website here, and you can buy the new album ‘Prospect Of Skelmersdale’at Full Time Hobby.

You can view a more complete set of photographs from Skelmersdale 1984 here, and you can find out more about McCoy Wynne here.




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