The first two books of his dad’s striking photos of railways in Stratford and beyond have proved a huge hit with readers. Now Phil Williams talks to the Herald about
the release of volume three, which is available to buy now
What can people expect from Volume 3 of the Lost Colour Collection?
Assuming that people who choose to buy the book are in possession of the first two volumes, I don’t think there will be too many surprises. I’ve tried to build a thread of consistency through all three books so that they can sit together on the shelf and exist as a singular body of work.
At the time when volume one was finalised in November 2016, I’d only restored around 500 slides. Now in 2019, I’m up to around 1,160 slides restored, which obviously creates far more possibilities. I’d like to think that the new book, regardless of being “more of the same”, does touch on new ground regarding locations and subject matter.
And for Herald readers in particular, are there previously unseen images from Stratford and around?
From day one, there was always going to be a paradoxical decision on my part for the books to be Stratford-orientated. This would create its own set of problems and solutions. I might sell 200 books locally if the content was to be totally Stratford, but the publisher would never have agreed to go with a project that didn’t offer wider appeal.
Several compromises I didn’t make, however, were during the time I was approaching publishers initially. Right from the start, I wanted total control over the book’s format, content, design and typography. I wasted over six months talking to prospective publishers who ultimately wanted to do things totally their own way. Needless to say, I moved on, finally going with Irwell Press, who at least allowed me to make the books the way I wanted to. To answer your original question more succinctly: yes, there are many shots of the Stratford area never before seen.
For those who haven’t come across the first two volumes, could you explain the idea behind them?
I just wanted to get my dad’s work out there for people to see. A variety of circumstances conspired in this man not reaching his true potential, both as a photographer and as an artist. He would never photograph the obvious and, whenever possible, would give great consideration to composition, not just subject matter.
At the time, did you realise how significant your father’s efforts were?
As a child, perhaps not. In later years (he died when I was 19) I began to pick up on the fact that he was a superb photographer and could also draw and paint, though he never really pursued these skills given the constraints of a full-time job and an involved family life.
Do any memories from photographic excursions stand out?
I have generally happy memories of Sunday morning drives out to Wilmcote, Honeybourne, Hatton and other locations near to Stratford, but as I suffered from travel sickness as a child, I rarely accompanied my father on escapades further afield. It didn’t help that the motion sickness tablets available at the time tasted dreadful!
Did you become a railway enthusiast as a result of your father’s interest?
No, not really. I think the timing was just wrong. Diesels had monopolised local rail services when I was a child and most of the steam locomotives were in a shocking state of upkeep. One of the earliest phrases I remember uttering as a child (probably just mimicking my father or grandfather) was “dirty old Hall” (referring to the Hall class of locomotive).
However, since beginning the restoration process in 2014, my perspective has changed completely. Throwing myself headlong into such an involved project, it’s been impossible to remain dispassionate and as a result, ironically, I would now definitely describe myself as a railway enthusiast.
Describe the process involved in selecting and then preparing the images. How long did it take and who played a role in supporting you?
The late John Jennings was absolutely pivotal in getting the ball rolling. John had known my dad in the late 1950s/early 1960s and had been inspired as a teenager to take up railway photography himself as a result of observing my dad’s methodology and seeing the results of his black-and-white work in the odd magazine.
Most railway photographers at the time didn’t use colour film as a first choice, but John as a young man had been invited to my dad’s occasional private slide show at his house in Shottery Road and what he saw made a significant impact on him.
At the start of the restoration process, it was a case of selecting images based primarily on their condition. Many slides had suffered irreparable damage due to a combination of dye degradation and fungal attack. Others weren’t so bad, so I created a kind-of priority list.
John also directed me towards images that I would not have considered A-list because of their condition, but he recognised their importance, due to either their subject matter or location. Sadly, John lost his battle against a long-term illness in 2016, so never got to see the first book completed.
The restoration process itself began with cleaning each slide with a propanol-based solvent to remove dust, mould and general grime. Other damage, such as scratches or holes in the film emulsion, had to be dealt with digitally. I’ve been using Photoshop now for almost 30 years and this proved invaluable. Fading of the film dyes was dealt with using the same software.
If Herald readers have not discovered the books so far, are the first two still available?
Yes, but I’m told that volume one is running close to selling out of its initial print run.
Who would Volume 3 make the ideal Christmas present for?
Difficult for me to be totally objective, but I’ve tried to create books that will reach out to people inside and outside of the “steam enthusiast” bubble. The books are largely pictorial, so there’s a bare minimum of “talking shop”, as it were.
I’d like to think that the textual content of each book is engaging and comprehensive enough for the rail aficionado, but not prohibitive to someone just wanting to learn about our railway past. Also, because of the large proportion of photographs taken locally, I hope that the books offer a unique insight into the town’s past.