It’s almost 40 years since renowned international observational photographer, Janine Wiedel, came to the West Midlands to make a bare knuckled document of the dirtiest industrial dungeons of Britain’s rusting heartland. From jewellers to coal mines, steel and iron works – the rate of decline was steep and foreshadowed wholesale deindustrialisation as tacit state policy. Underinvestment meant former world-leading businesses were no longer competitive internationally and faced a predictably grim future. If you’re living in a downtown Birmingham Javelin Block reanimated apartment block your direct connection in a heritage building will haunt you daily.
Janine’s two year project, Vulcan’s Forge, resulted in an acclaimed exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in 1979, and an ATV documentary. Vulcan’s Forge is a record unlike any other before or since. Now Bluecoat Press is giving this project it's epic due, with the publication of a meticulously produced 150-page photobook.
The book has already grabbed the attention Britain's Guardian newspaper, where Stuart Jeffries, I think they’ve got him on the Brum Beat, wrote, “Vulcan Forge has [Dorothea] Lange-like integrity and evident fondness for the people she depicts.” High praise. I am not sure I am seeing that evident fondness, maybe more, immense respect, and I see a woman working her side of the lens just as hard as her subjects. Every time.
Janine arrived in Birmingham with her reputation already cemented, oh man, she had documented the Black Power movement, been invited in even, and the infamous Berkeley People’s Park protest in 1969. Following on from the West Midlands Janine photographed Greenham Common Women’s Camp, the multicultural community squat in St Agnes Place, London, and the BAME and Rastafarian communities in Brixton. Her latest work includes six months photographing in the Calais ‘Jungle’ and Grande-Synthe refugee camp in Dunkirk. Politically motivated always, Janine’s outstanding work is in the best traditions of humanist photography.
Read Outsideleft’s December 2021 interview with Janine, here⇒.
Main Image: Janine Wiedel
The new Vulcan’s Forge tome has a Kickstarter page, which is doing deserved fantastically well. Visit the Vulcan's Forge Kickstarter page here⇒.