Alec Gill: psychologist with a digital camera

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After 50 years, the photographer is bringing up funds to publish his save of a fishing community 

“There are no H’s in Hull, ” Alec Gill explains. With the local accent, Hull becomes ‘Ull, happy becomes ‘appy, and Hessle Road becomes ‘Essle Road. Gill, a photographer “born and bred” within the northern port city, offers photographed the area and local community for five decades. Right now, his 6000-image database is definitely finally being turned into the photobook.  

© Alec Gill.

Gill was raised in Hull’s Aged Town, another working-class area. Using a makeshift darkroom in his parents’ house and a 12-exposure Rolleicord, he blended “psychology” with street photography, as he became acquainted with the people he was photographing. “The Rolleicord was ideal because once you’ve got the camera ready, you can talk to the subjects, get to know them, ” he explains. It is immediately crystal clear Gill was, and still is certainly, a people person. He is powered not by the specifics from the camera, but by real human stories. “The camera is a passport into people’s lives, ” he says. The passport, not the destination.  

© Alec Gill.

© Alec Gill.

“I don’t really call myself a professional photographer, ” he says. Behind your pet, old metal storage cupboards hold a lifetime of images and research documents, almost all Gill’s. Folders, boxes, plus files fill the racks, an ordered collection of a profession dedicated to Hull. Gill details himself as a “psychologist using a camera, ” an image-maker concerned with people. “In the early 1970s, I was studying mindset, ” he explains. “We were told to specialise, to find a subject. The Hessle Road area is a number of streets near the fishing port, rows and rows associated with family houses for those focusing on the docks – this particular became my specialty. ” Gill created a boundary map for Hessle Road, intending to photograph everything inside the demarcated circle. He continued to do this for the next 15 many years.

The new book, which sees the 74-year-old venture into the field of crowdfunding, began when his publishing partner, Iranzu Baker, first saw the work. “Her mother discovered it by chance at an exhibition plus showed her the pictures. Since then we’ve been coming together on this Kickstarter, ” he explains. Like many professional photographers – especially since the start of the pandemic – Gill wanted an alternative to traditional book publishing. “It’s an amazing program, and I love the global experience, ” he adds. Donations for the book have come inside from across the world, all through people who continue to be interested in a long-gone fishing community.

© Alec Gill.

Hessle Street itself has gone through major changes since the project started. When Gill started recording, the fishing industry had been in decline, and soon after many buildings in the area were demolished. Now, Hull is a different city, partly regenerated through its time because the 2017 City of Culture. “Sometimes, it feels like I’ve experienced a time machine, ” he admits that. “I guess in a way, that is what the camera is; a period machine. ”

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Academic journal of Photography in Oct 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this particular, he studied a BA in History of Art on the Courtauld Instititue of Artwork, London.

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