Pier Head: Tom Wood's photographs of ferry passengers on the Mersey in the '70s and '80s

Beans + Chips 2, Tower Promenade, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1990

The Mersey Ferries operate between Liverpool and the Wirral peninsula. Seminal British photographer Tom Wood lived in New Brighton for 25 years, and for most days throughout the '70s and '80s, he crossed the river. He photographed whilst waiting for the boat to arrive, on board the ferry and then later at the Pier Head. These images, selected from 1,000s of rolls of film, form The Pier Head - Tom Wood, a new exhibition at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery, just two minutes away from the Pier Head terminal itself.

A new book, Termini, will launch with the exhibition, featuring a range of images from the show, together with specially written text by poet and writer Paul Farley. Two of Wood’s previous books - Photie Man and Looking for Love, are included in Source Photographic Review’s list of The Greatest 150 Photo Books of All Time.

Wood’s Pier Head work was made at a time when being casually photographed was far less common than now. The 90 plus images on display show commuters, families, friends, the old and the young making the everyday journey across the river, over a kilometre from shore to shore.

Above Pier Head Terminal, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 © Tom Wood

Above Pier Head Terminal, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 © Tom Wood

Above Pier Head, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 ©Tom Wood

Above Pier Head, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 ©Tom Wood

Mirror Mersey, From ‘The Pier Head’ Series, 1989 © Tom Wood

Mirror Mersey, From ‘The Pier Head’ Series, 1989 © Tom Wood

Tom Wood doesn’t see himself as a reporter. As John Berger said in 2004: "What seems to me more important than this, is his capacity to enter as an artist into the profound, popular, often inarticulate but deeply human life of the people in the place he chooses to work in. He has ‘protected’ a Merseyside that is now eloquent and forever unloseable."

Thomas Dukes, Curator, said: "The work spans a time of change for photography. A lot of work from the late '70s was showing a world that was rapidly being built, yet people in photographs were often treated like actors, representing an idea or branch of society. They were rarely captured as individual people in their own right. Tom Wood was one of the photographers that disrupted this, by allowing people to bring their own personality into the frame.

"This is an exhibition about the relationships with the recurring people and places in our daily lives. It’s about familiarities built during a commute – a journey through the correspondences of gazes - and an exploration of a process of waiting, destinations and points of departure."

Seacombe Ferry, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 © Tom Wood

Seacombe Ferry, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1985 © Tom Wood

Woodside Ferry Terminal, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1979 © Tom Wood

Woodside Ferry Terminal, From 'The Pier Head' Series, Tom Wood, 1979 © Tom Wood

Like many cities worldwide, Liverpool has been undergoing a long transition from industrial powerhouse to service city, with many of its functional maritime spaces becoming repurposed. For generations, the Mersey Ferry has been and remains a key transport link across the River Mersey, with ferries running continuously between the Pier Head, Liverpool City Centre, and Seacombe and Woodside on the Wirral peninsula. Although many still use the ferry to commute, trains and buses have become the primary means of transport over the river for commuters, with the Mersey Ferry becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction.

The Pier Head - Tom Wood is accompanied by a project called Ferry Folk, from artist and producer Liz Wewiora. Working with Merseytravel as their artist-in-residence, she has been carrying out a socially-engaged photography project on board the Mersey ferry and around the ferry terminals.

The collaborative work she has produced features photographs and anecdotes that tell the stories of the commuters, tourists and staff on board the Mersey Ferry. Various work from this project will be shown in three places: outside Open Eye Gallery, at Museum of Liverpool and digitally showcased on PhotoStories, Open Eye Gallery’s open platform for photographers.

The Pier Head – Tom Wood runs from 12 January to 25 March at Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool.