On the same afternoon as England’s bid to reach the World Cup quarter finals, photographer Len Grant led a photography workshop at Clayton Vale hosted by Groundwork.
Photography workshop in the beautiful Clayton Vale. Photo: Len Grant
I was surprised anyone showed up at all. This was the big one: England versus Germany and it seemed every other house in east Manchester was sporting a massive St George’s flag or half a mile of bunting. Many had both.
But as our own kick-off arrived there were many eager snappers fingering their dials and knobs ready to capture the beauty of the Vale.
Billed as being totally non-technical, I firstly extolled the virtues of ‘looking at light’, imagining the sun as one massive photographic light that could be either on, off or many variations in between.
Getting a different viewpoint. Photo: Elliot Brown
The committed participants also heard my recommendation for ‘moving about’, looking for the best viewpoint and not being content with the view of a scene that first presents itself. It sounds incredibly basic but it is consistently overlooked and can make a good photograph even better.
I remember my photographic education – such as it was – took great leaps forward when my evening class teacher encouraged us to start taking pictures in a sequence rather than looking just for that killer shot. So my workshop participants were sent off to take a series of images, of any subject matter, that might be the beginning of ‘story-telling’, or at least thinking about they wanted to say with their photography before lifting the viewfinder to the eye.
Congratulation to all involved. It was a constructive afternoon for photography if not for English football. Here are some of the results.
Pupils from Wright Robinson College show off their work inspired by Black Looks artist, Colin Yates. Their banner is displayed outside the Sportcity Visitor Centre on Ashton New Road.
Len Grant reports back from two exhibitions in east Manchester
Although it’s been on tour for ten years, this is the first appearance of the Black Looks exhibition in Manchester. And very welcome it is too. The 25 drawings, paintings and prints by artist Colin Yates, trace the contribution of Black and Asian professional footballers in Britain for more than a century.
Colin was motivated to produce his work whilst playing amateur football: ‘…I was witness to a series of racist incidents involving my Black and Asian teammates,’ says the exhibition introduction. ‘As a response to these verbal and physical attacks I decided to create an anti-racist football exhibition.’
Colin Yates' 'Black Looks' exhibition at Sportcity until the 26th
Colin accompanies the exhibition as it visits new cities, leading workshops with local schoolchildren as part of his continuing artistic response to racism in football. This week and last, he’s been motivating Wright Robinson High School students to create their own artwork based on the issues raised by the exhibition. Colin has worked with over 200 schools and community groups, educating through his art.
But what of the work? It’s powerful and full-on. Appropriately, Colin’s portrait of City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips kicks off the exhibition. It’s a beautifully-crafted copy of a photograph of W-P playing in a ‘friendly’ against Spain in Madrid. Behind him are Spanish fans, some on their feet, and you can almost see the verbal abuse hurled from the stand. The winger commented later, “That’s why I support the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign. It’s been going for 10 years but there is still a need for it, because you still hear the chants.”
Portrait of Shaun Wright-Phillips in Madrid
Colin’s exhibition also charts the rise of Black footballers in the British game. One piece, Black Explosion 1970-80, features 11 footballers including, Garth Crooks, Laurie Cunningham, Clyde Best MBE, Cyrille Regis MBE, and Viv Anderson MBE who, in 1979, was the very first Black footballer to play for England in a full international match.
Anderson’s achievement is further profiled in a poster-style piece with solid reads, blues, greens and yellows and the word LANDMARK below his portrait. Obama got a poster in the same style in the run-up to the presidential elections last year.
Other notable pieces works include a ‘neon’ Stan Collymore, a controversial figure who Colin says ‘joined the list of great footballing underachievers.’
The exhibition runs until Monday 26th October at the Sportcity Visitor Centre, Ashton New Road, near its junction with Alan Turing Way. Call 0161 227 3151 for opening times.
The second exhibition has sadly come and gone. Only staged for one day in the studio at The Angels Centre in Gorton, it was Peter Koudellas’ debut show. Twenty or so black and white prints were testament to Peter’s diverse artistic talent. As a member of the Gorton Visual Arts group, 52 year-old Peter, who has learning disabilities, has documented scenes from his travels around the country.
Peter's debut solo show at The Angels in Gorton
“He’s only been taking pictures for about 18 months,” explains his mother, Marie. “He takes photographs wherever he goes, he always has his camera with him.”
Peter is particularly keen on public art and has documented sculptures in Yorkshire, artwork at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the Eric Morecombe figure on the Flyde coast and, nearer to home, Colin Spofforth’s The Runner at the City of Manchester Stadium. Not to upset any footballing rivalries his exhibition also included the Best, Law and Charlton tribute at Old Trafford!
As part of the Gorton Visual Arts group, Peter has also contributed to the Belle Vue mosaic at Gorton Market and to the group’s many artistic endeavours. Artist Ian McKay, who inspires and co-ordinates the local amateur artists, says of Peter, “His application of paint is fantastic. He’s already where many professional painters would love to be.”
In 1985 photographer Charlie Meecham set out to photograph the seven mile Oldham Road between Manchester city centre and Oldham. Images of disused mills, new housing, concrete underpasses and rubbish-strewn wasteland were subsequently exhibited and published.
Now, nearly 25 years on, Charlie is back with his camera, about to embark on a sequel.
East: How did the first project develop?
Charlie: Originally it was very much about the road itself, but, after working on it for a short time, it was clear that the changes on either side of the road were more interesting.
Behind the roadside buildings it was like a stage set: new housing estates were springing up and whole areas were being re-landscaped. All this against the backdrop of the cotton mills. That became the focus for the project.
East: How did you go about it?
Charlie: I’d do a lot of walking. I’d pick an area and explore it for half a day or more. At first I’d use the camera as a notebook, so nothing gets too precious, too early. Then I’d go back to particular areas and re-photograph them with a large plate camera – you know – the type with a cloth over your head.
Recently I re-discovered a box of work prints from the first project that didn’t make it to the final exhibition. They’re fascinating, like a story book.
East: So, what’s changed in 25 years?
Charlie: What’s been a real shock to me is the housing in Miles Platting, at the Manchester end. There are swathes of houses that are now boarded up which were pretty much new 25 years ago. Whatever they were trying to do then clearly didn’t work.
Some of the tower blocks are still there, and the mills, or bits of mills, of course. But the big companies – Sharp, Pifco, Ferranti – appear to have closed down.
After 25 years of change I’m finding it quite hard to find some of the original locations from the first view but when I show local people the photographs, I do get a lot of help and I’m pleased to say there are still plenty of people with sharp memories and tales to tell about how it was and what has happened since.
I would like to build on this experience by working with local community groups and I feel there is more activity on that level than there was in the mid-1980s. It’s these groups I’d like to work with on this new project.
East: That will be a different way of working for you?
Charlie: Yes. Originally I’d work in relative isolation, maybe just chatting to the people I met along the way. This time I want to get much more involved with local community groups and with nearby schools. In this digital age, we are all photographers and I want to give everyone to opportunity to contribute something to this project.
East: So what questions will you be asking residents?
Well, I’d like to know what gives them a ‘sense of place’. What’s important to them locally? Is there a building or a feature – however strange or simple – that gives character to their surroundings?
I’d like to hear as many views as possible which is why I’m spending the next two years on the project. Any ideas or suggestions to help get me started will be gratefully received.
Follow Charlie’s project on his blog here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.