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photo-eye Book Reviews: The Altogether

The Altogether, By Chris Coekin.
Published by Walkout, 2012.

The Altogether
Reviewed by Colin Pantall
Chris Coekin The Altogether
Photographs by Chris Coekin
Walkout, 2012. Hardbound. 124 pp., 28x4 page gatefolds, 27 color illustrations, 8-3/4x6-3/4".

"The Altogether is inspired by manufacturing and the manual workers who make and produce, craftsman who are skilled and work with their hands," says Chris Coekin of his latest journey through English working class culture. 

Part of that craftsmanship is found in the book itself. Every detail is thought out and included so it connects into a narrative whole. First off, the book comes with a foil-blocked embossed cover of a man pulling on a rope. It's chalk white against coal black cloth, a touch-and-feel introduction to a book in which tactile, visual and auditory combine to perfect effect. 

Open the book, and you don't see any pictures. Instead you get lines from a verse; "Days, Days at the factories," "They come and they go," "As sure as the sun sets." Coekin wrote the verse, a parallel text that pulls the book and the images together through language, rhythm and song.
The Altogether, by Chris Coekin. Published by Walkout, 2012.
The lines are printed on gatefolds. Flick these over and you see the three sets of pictures that form the heart of the book. The first set shows the factory workers; men stand in a line pulling on a rope against a background of oil-stained concrete and heavy machinery, four men stand in a quadrant, one hand shaking a diagonal across the human square, the other holding the tools of their manufacturing trade; a spade, a sledgehammer and a pick.
The Altogether, by Chris Coekin. Published by Walkout, 2012.
Inspired by old Trade Union banners, the pictures aren't so much the idealised propaganda images of old but a restaging with imperfections added. The poses are stiff, the backgrounds too real and the economics more complex than those of the past. These are real people with real jobs.
The Altogether, by Chris Coekin. Published by Walkout, 2012.
At least they used to be real jobs, because the complexities are added to by the setting for the book; John Pring & Son Wire, a wire-making company in Cheshire, England. The factory closed down as Coekin was making his photographs, giving a sense of loss to the book. This sense of mortality is accentuated by the second set of pictures: photographs that show leaks and stains, geological formation of chemical leakage on walls, floors and machinery.

The final set of pictures shows old tools lying in damp recesses of the factory floor; the fossilised remains of labour lost perhaps?

The Altogether, by Chris Coekin. Published by Walkout, 2012.
The Altogether is a memorial to the people who worked in the British manufacturing industry, and the pride and organisation of the labour movements that helped make it something to be proud of. In that sense, it's not a very fashionable book. How it is made, though, is of the moment. The cover is tactile, the layout is manual and the pages are handfolded. The special edition comes with a seven inch disc that plays the lines scripted into the body of the book, an analogue detail that is both archaic and of the moment. Even the typeface Coekin sourced for the book has an industrial feel.

The Altogether is a small but perfectly formed book, the latest in what is becoming an impressive body of published work by Coekin, a memorial to an old England, a veritable blue-collar Jerusalem that is lost but not forgotten.—COLIN PANTALL

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COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer, photographer and teacher - he is currently a visiting lecturer in Documentary Photography at the University of Wales. His work has been exhibited in London, Amsterdam, Manchester and Rome and his Sofa Portraits will be published as a handmade book early next year. Further thoughts of Colin Pantall can be found on his blog, which was listed as one of’s favourites earlier this year.