Ian Macdonald: Offshore The Southern North Sea 1988

Café Royal Books

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Softcover | 14 X 20 cm | 36 pp

Café Royal Books | 2022

Following the publication, in 1987, of Smith’s Dock Shipbuilders by Ian Macdonald and Len Tabner, a touring exhibition of selected works travelled to Imperial College London, where it was viewed by executives of the Offshore oil and gas exploration industries. As a consequence both were invited to submit a proposal to document the opening of a new gas field in the Southern North Sea. The subsequent commission offered a wide remit, from working in a Tyneside shipyard where a gas platform was being constructed to working offshore witnessing the lifting of that platform onto jackets anchored on the sea bed, to observing life on a three leg jack-up drilling rig at sea.

The offshore work entailed being ferried from Lincolnshire by helicopter to a giant Derrick Lifting Barge, moored in the middle of the sea, an exciting experience in it’s own right. In order to observe the lift from barge to jackets, at 9,000 tons the heaviest lift at the time, Macdonald needed to be at sea level. This was accomplished by him being craned off the deck of the lifting barge, in a small metal basket, onto the deck of a Belgium deep sea tug out of Antwerp. The tug, ably skippered, was able to hold position, close to the barge, as the platform was lowered onto the jackets. Visits to the drilling rig also required separate helicopter journeys.

Although the work was created 36 years ago, it still remains a powerful and lasting experience for Macdonald. This contemporary edited selection of the photographs captures a poignant time in modern industrial history. Macdonald documents the extremes of the oil and gas industries against the harsh back drop of the North Sea. In recent times many of the heavy manufacturing processes Macdonald photographed have become obsolete. This series of photographs is yet another testament to the integrity of these times and ultimately, it’s workforce.

Café Royal Books, established in 2005, is a small family-run publisher based in England, focussing on documentary photography linked to Britain and Ireland, printed and bound locally by a small 170 year old printing company. In 2022 Café Royal Books received the Royal Photographic Society Award for Photographic Publishing.

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