Life on the Scrap Heap by Peter Marlow, 1985

Peter Marlow helped to create the image of the “Iron Lady” with his famous portrait of Margaret Thatcher looking defiant at the 1981 Conservative party conference in Blackpool. Ironically, Marlow was also known for documenting the worst of Thatcher’s Britain, focussing on poverty in the city of Liverpool.

In July 1981, violence rocked the inner city of Liverpool, in an area called Toxteth. Tensions had been simmering for a long time between the local police and the black community, for stopping and searching young black men in the area. The economy was in recession and the unemployment in Britain was at a 50-year high in 1981, with Merseyside, Liverpool and Toxteth being the worst hit areas; full-scale rioting followed where cars and milk floats were set on fire.

Marlow was sent by the Sunday Times Magazine to cover the city in the wake of the riots, when he came across people scavenging through a municipal rubbish tip looking for items to sell so that they could feed their families. “I could not believe that this was the country I lived in,” he later told the BBC. At first, his suspicious subjects pelted him with rotting fruit. He kept returning and knew that he had become accepted when, one morning, as he was lying on the ground focusing his camera, someone walked over him and passed on without comment. An eight-year project focussing on Liverpool followed, and the celebrated book of photographs, Liverpool: Looking Out to Sea, was published in 1993. A photo from the rubbish tip was on the cover of the book.

Sunday Times Magazine, May 19, 1985

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