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Benny Profane: remembering a landfill in the Merseyside docklands

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Wrapped around the front and back cover of Ken Grant’s latest photobook is a flock of what must be hundreds of seagulls, swooping down to scavenge bits of food on a landfill site at Bidston Moss, in the dockland district of Birkenhead, North West England. The image, taken by the photographer known for documenting working class life in Liverpool, sets the tone of the book. The gulls signal that we are near the water, as well as foreshadowing the spirit of the wasteland, where people flocked week-on-week to scavenge for “all sorts of things”, including furniture, books, clothes, and electricals.

“They became like work colleagues,” says Grant, who visited the landfill repeatedly for six years, between 1989 and 1995. Grant is known for working slowly and deliberately, and to this day will return to the same spots around Liverpool that he has been photographing since the 80s. To many of the 40-or-so people who visited the landfill at Bidston Moss every weekend, the photographer was a familiar face they knew from football matches or in the parks around Birkenhead. “There was a logic to why I was floating around all the time,” says Grant.

© Ken Grant courtesy RRB Photobooks

Born in Liverpool in 1967, Grant is the son of a joiner who owned a unit near the docklands, so he grew up knowing about the landfill. “It was familiar territory, it’s where I hung around a lot as a kid,” he says. In 1995, the landfill was officially closed and landscaped into a nature reserve, but for six years before that Grant visited it twice a week, photographing mostly on the weekends when the site was more accessible.

Although his process is slow, Grant’s photographs feel incredibly intuitive. “The longer I’m around something the more I figure things out and consolidate my own thinking about it,” he says, explaining how his experience in magazine photography and meant he was trained in producing decent photographs to tight deadlines. In his personal work, Grant felt that he “reserved the right to work slowly”. “It’s about making sense of the images in a way that’s going to be a bit more considered, and longer lasting,” he says. “Seeing that change is part of the process and excitement.”

The book, which takes its name, Benny Profane, from a character in Thomas Pynchon’s 1963 odyssey V., is designed and sequenced by Ania Nalecka-Milach, with help from her husband, photographer Rafal Milach. The photographs and location have no connection to Thomas Pynchon or his novel, but Grant was attracted to the imperfections of the character, and the journey that takes him between goodness and profanity. Similarly, the photographs in Benny Profane are a record of individual journeys, and those who were navigating their own way towards stability in an era when little was.

Benny Profane by Ken Grant is published by RRB PhotoBooks


© Ken Grant courtesy RRB Photobooks
© Ken Grant courtesy RRB Photobooks
© Ken Grant courtesy RRB Photobooks
© Ken Grant courtesy RRB Photobooks
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.


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