Richard Williams gives SS United States a new lease of life with photo show at Edinburgh Stills

By Mark Sheerin | 12 January 2012
Colour photo of a rusting liner ship in dock
View from the retail park: the SS United States© Richard Williams
Exhibition: Focus Space: Richard Williams - United States, Stills, Edinburgh, until March 18 2012

Few effects of globalization can be seen in such spectacular form as the rusting hulk of a 990-foot transatlantic liner. In a dock in Philadelphia, you have on one side an eight-year old Ikea store and right opposite the SS United States.

Though by day a Professor of Visual Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, Richard Williams has long shot pictures for his own text books. And a boyhood obsession with the ship in question makes him the natural choice to document its present day state.

More than simply a ghost ship, the SS US represents an age before air travel when it offered the fastest waterborne crossing of the Atlantic in just three days and 10 hours. Aluminium construction gave it the edge over Cunard's Queens Elizabeth and Mary.

Since then it has been requisitioned by the US Navy, towed to the Ukraine to have asbestos removed, and most recently brought into line with the retail park in which it sits by plans to make it part of a casino complex.

Williams has unearthed a fascinating history which can be read in a guide to the show. Here one finds that another photo, not on display but certainly in existence, shows a much younger author: a baby in his mother's arms on the deck of the ship, mid ocean.

  • Open 11am-9pm Monday-Thursday (6pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Friday). Admission free.

Visit Mark Sheerin’s contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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