Somerdale: Unwrapped

22nd November 2013

It's a bright, clear Saturday morning in mid August 2013 and I find myself back on familiar territory. After two and a half years since the final chocolate bar rolled off the production line and my last visit to photograph the former Fry/Cadbury factory at Somerdale in Keynsham, I am back at the site once again.

Following a welcome invitation by the site's management to undertake a follow-up project to my original study of the iconic plant in its final operational months, the purpose of this initial visit was to survey the land; to recce the factory buildings as they now stand and to explore the photographic possibilities which lie within.

Although not immediately apparent from the relatively unchanged condition outside, the interim years since closure have witnessed dramatic changes to the factory's interior during preparations for the next phase of the site's redevelopment. I was immediately struck by the sheer cavernous space which has replaced the once cluttered floors occupied by machinery. It is an eery experience; these vast halls where, until relatively recently, hundreds of people once worked daily now echo as deeply as any cathedral. The expansive storeys resound all around to the faintest noises; their source & direction of origin often unclear. To the uninitiated, the lack of obvious visual reference points now makes navigation around this empty shell a disorientating experience in places.

Meanwhile, walls and ceilings bear the scars of the early stages of demolition; scorch marks from acetylene torches where fittings have been removed are evident everywhere. Despite the best and effective (under the circumstances) endeavours of its owners, the natural and unstoppable deterioration of the plant in a relatively short time is quite shocking with peeling paint hanging from ceilings in huge swathes & pools of rainwater forming on floors.

By autumn 2013, the photography at Somerdale was advancing well. As expected, the first few visits had presented a host of new challenges which clearly distinguished it from the first project I started at the site three years previously.

The emphasis of the original phase of the project in 2010 was principally centred on the exterior of the site's buildings due to the then imposed restrictions. By contrast, I now have a relatively free run of most of the buildings albeit accompanied and avoiding areas where preparatory work such as asbestos removal is taking place.

With power to the buildings long since severed, natural light is now the only source of illumination for photography. Evidence of the activity which took place here for the best part of a century is now scarce, save for the occasional battered sign and a single, lingering piece of apparatus. All that remains now is essentially a vast empty space.

Despite this though, capturing 'emptiness' here on camera has so far proved every bit as immersive and fruitful as with previous projects. Working around sunlight which floods in ephemerally to bring areas to life in turn, the factory's bare geometry, shadows and standing water combine to make for some inspiring creative possibilities.

With the news that a company has been given the go-ahead to proceed with the site's redevelopment and the imminent first phase of demolition, this is a time of dramatic change for Somerdale. The ultimate intention of this project is to visually document yet another chapter in the evolution of this historic and fascinating site.

Visit the Somerdale Unwrapped gallery
Visit the Sunset on Somerdale (2010/11) gallery

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