Students on the department’s recent GCSE trip to London discovered Ben Wilson painting on the Millennium Bridge Ben. As a consequence we decided to learn more about this amazing London street artist.
It turns out that Ben Wilson has turned hundreds of chewing gum blobs on London’s Millennium Bridge into tiny works of art, offering a street-level alternative the nearby art temple that is Tate Modern.
Ben Wilson is an artist better known by another name: The Chewing-Gum Man. For more than a decade he has systematically turned over 10,000 trodden-in chewing gums that pepper the streets of London into miniature canvasses. He has perfected a technique using a blowtorch and layers of acrylic paint and lacquer to make tiny, shining works of art at our feet. His subject matter ranges from minuscule yet realistic London scenes to brightly coloured abstract patterns and strange creatures.
A huge amount of his work can be found in Muswell Hill, where he lives. However, he has concentrated much of his recent efforts on the iconic Millennium Bridge. Here, the urge is to look up at the some of London’s finest landmarks: the tower of Tate Modern and grand dome of St. Paul’s, but if you look down, instead you will discover a gallery in microcosm; an unsanctioned art trail leading right up to the entrance of Tate Modern. They are all too easy to miss, but once you spot one painted gum you suddenly see them all.
Although the works themselves are inconspicuous, Wilson draws a lot of attention when crouched on the ground, absorbed in painting a spot on the pavement over hours or even days. He has been arrested numerous times, but carefully avoids the definition of criminal damage by sticking to the gum, which isn’t technically part of the property. He works on waste, making adjustments to otherwise overlooked and unwanted parts of our environment as he finds them.
Wilson’s gum art (both the process and the outcome) is a subtly subversive intervention in a public space. He overtly disregards convention by lavishing attention on something discarded and worthless, lying down for hours to work on his art on a major thoroughfare. The fact that Wilson has not been deterred by his brushes with the police makes his work seem all the more irreverent and joyful. What might irk the local council has amused and delighted hundreds of people who have stumbled across him and his work.
The public engage with the gum-paintings, both in their completed state and sometimes as they are being made, interacting with the artist who will take requests: adding names, dates and symbols important to an interested stranger. This project is as democratic as it is whimsical and more than a little bit cheeky.
When Wilson isn’t present, his completed works catch the eye of the passerby and reveal themselves more and more through the viewer’s engagement with them. In this way, the casual walker, having spotted the first glimmering gum, suddenly becomes a painted chewing gum hunter, scanning the ground for more. Discovering Wilson’s work at your feet can change your perspective and your trajectory. The bridge turns into a gallery and your simple walk turns into an art trail.
There is something quite magical about finding the gum art for yourself – perhaps even by accident – in the shadow of one of the most well-attended art galleries in the world. Wilson’s unsanctioned street art stands in direct contrast to Tate Modern, which represents the centre of the established, contemporary art elite. Wilson’s work sits literally and metaphorically outside this institution. These trodden-on artworks illuminate the grey and grimy ground, offering an antidote to the preciousness of the white-walled gallery. They are free for all to discover and enjoy and will be there until the footfall of a million Londoners and tourists wears them away. So, the next time you are crossing the Millennium Bridge, we recommend looking down for a change.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that gives a cyan-blue print. The English scientist and astronomer Sir John Herschel discovered this procedure in 1842. Herschel made numerous important contributions to photography. He made improvements in photographic processes, particularly in inventing the cyanotype process and variations (such as the chrysotype), the precursors of the modern blueprint process. He experimented with color reproduction, noting that rays of different parts of the spectrum tended to impart their own color to a photographic paper. He collaborated in the early 1840’s with Henry Collen, portrait painter to Queen Victoria. Herschel originally discovered the platinum process on the basis of the light sensitivity of platinum salts, later developed by William Willis. He coined the term photography and applied the terms negative and positive to photography. Even though John Herschel is perhaps the inventor of the cyanotype process, Anna Atkins actually brought this to photography. She created a limited series of cyanotype books that documented ferns and other plant life. By using this process, Anna Atkins is regarded as the first female photographer.
They result in a photo-sensitive solution when dissolved in water, which is used tocoat a material (usually paper). A positive image can be produced by exposing it to a source of ultraviolet light (such as sunlight) with a negative. The UV light reduces the iron (III) to iron (II). This is followed by a complex reaction of the iron (II) complex with ferricyanide. The result is an insoluble, blue dye (ferric ferrocyanide) known as Prussian blue. The developing of the picture takes place by flushing it with flowing water. The water-soluble iron (III) salts are washed away, while the non-watersoluble Prussian blue remains in the paper. This is what gives the picture its typical blue color. The process was popular in engineering circles well into the 20th century. The simple and low-cost process enabled them to produce large-scale copies of their work, referred to as blueprints.
The cyanotype process at a glance: The cyanotype process is simple. It can be done easily in a few steps: Mixing chemicals:
The cyanotype is made up of two simple solutions. Potassium ferricyanide and Ferric ammonium citrate (green) are mixed with water separately. The two solutions are then blended together in equal parts. Preparing the canvas: Use paper, card, textiles or any other naturally absorbent material and coated with the solution. Dry in the dark or in a dryer with no direct light.
Printing the cyanotype: Objects or negatives are placed on the material to make aprint. The cyanotype is printed using UV light, such as the sun, a light box or a UV lamp. Making digital contact negatives (see separate sheet) is a good way of experimenting with your own photographs. You will need to photocopy your negative image onto acetate. Processing and drying: After exposure the material is processed by simply rinsing it in water. A white print emerges on a blue background. The final print is dried and admired.
Patterns in nature are visible regularities of form found in the natural world. These patterns recur in different contexts and can sometimes be modelled mathematically. Natural patterns include:
Chaos, flow, meanders
Early Greek philosophers studied pattern, with Plato, Pythagoras and Empedocles attempting to explain order in nature. The modern understanding of visible patterns developed gradually over time.
In the 19th century, Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau examined soap films, leading him to formulate the concept of a minimal surface. German biologist and artist Ernst Haeckel painted hundreds of marine organisms to emphasise their symmetry. Scottish biologist D’Arcy Thompson pioneered the study of growth patterns in both plants and animals, showing that simple equations could explain spiral growth. In the 20th century, British mathematician Alan Turing predicted mechanisms of morphogenesis which give rise to patterns of spots and stripes. Hungarian biologist Aristid Lindenmayer and French American mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot showed how the mathematics of fractals could create plant growth patterns.
Mathematics, physics and chemistry can explain patterns in nature at different levels. Patterns in living things are explained by the biological processes of natural selection and sexual selection. Studies of pattern formation make use of computer models to simulate a wide range of patterns.
Our natural world is full of interesting patterns that can be used to inspire artists. There are endless varieties of patterns found in nature from plants and foliage, to animals and insects, landforms, and many others.
All living things create patterns. Patterns are also constantly being created by simple physical laws. There are patterns in the sand dunes created by blowing winds. There is a pattern in the vortex of a whirlpool and in the formation of an ice crystal.
Logo designer Jacob Cass offers expert advice and vital tips to help you create the perfect logo. (the following is from the http://www.Creativebloq.com)
Before you embark on logo design, you must understand what a logo is and what it is supposed to do. A logo identifies a company or product via the use of a mark, flag, symbol or signature. A logo does not sell the company directly nor rarely does it describe a business. Logos derive their meaning from the quality of the thing they symbolise, not the other way around – logos are there to identity, not to explain. In a nutshell, what a logo means is more important than what it looks like.
To illustrate this concept, think of logos like people. We prefer to be called by our names – Jacob, Emily, Tyler – rather than by the confusing and forgettable description of ourselves such as ‘the guy who always wears pink and has blonde hair’. In this same way, a logo should not literally describe what the business does but rather identify the business in a way that is recognisable and memorable.
David Airey’s 10 golden rules of logo design
When you think of a person who’s impacted your life, it’s almost certain that you can picture what he or she looks like. And so it is with the brands from which we often buy. We can easily picture the logo just by thinking about our experiences with the product, company or service.
Where there was once just a handful of companies operating within a particular market or niche, there might now be hundreds, maybe thousands, all competing for attention, all wanting us to look at them first. That creates increasing need for brands to visually differentiate themselves so they’re not confused with competitors.
That differentiation is achieved through brand identity design – a range of elements that all work together to form a distinctive picture in our minds. Depending on the company, the identity can include uniforms, vehicle graphics, business cards, product packaging, photographic style, coffee mugs, billboard advertising, and a raft of other items, right down to the font choice on the website.
“When we look at something, we don’t read first. Before anything else we see shape, we see colour, and if that’s enough to hold our attention, then we’ll read” David Airey
It’s important to remember that when we look at something, we don’t read first. Before anything else we see shape, we see colour, and if that’s enough to hold our attention, then we’ll read. So in every instance, regardless of company, the small but essential element in the brand picture is the logo.
Our job as designers is to distill the essence of a brand into the shape and colour that’s most likely to endure, because visual appearance plays a critical part in forming a connection in our brains between what we experience and who we experience it with (the brand). In many respects, a company’s logo is akin to our loved ones’ faces.
When the right logo is aligned with an excellent product, and when it’s in place for a significant amount of time, it can eventually become a priceless asset for any company. The Nike swoosh, McDonald’s golden arches, the Michelin man, Mercedes’ three-pointed star, the Woolmark symbol – these are just a few of the more high-profile examples. But besides their ubiquitous nature, how do you give a logo the best possible chance of reaching a similar status? There are universal traits within every successful logo project, and I’ve outlined some here to help improve the quality of the marks you create.
01. Lay the groundwork
One of the most interesting parts of being a designer is that you get to learn new things with each new project. Every client is different, and even in the same profession, people do their jobs in many different ways.
To make it easier for consensus to be reached on your design idea, you need to ask your client the right questions from the outset: Why are you here? What do you do, and how do you do it? What makes you different? Who are you here for? What do you value the most?
Those questions might seem quite straightforward, but they can be challenging to answer, and they’ll lead to further questions about your clients’ businesses. What you discover in this phase of a project will help to determine the strongest possible design direction.
02. Treasure your sketchpad
Using a sketchpad is a chance to rest our eyes from the glare of brightly lit pixels that tend to dominate our lives. But more importantly, recording different design ideas can be much quicker when there isn’t a digital device between our hands and our brains. So if you wake in the night with an idea you don’t want to lose, the pen and paper by your bed is the ideal way to remember. Sketching also makes it easier to put shapes exactly where you want them – there’ll always be time to digitise your marks later.
When you’re describing design ideas to clients, prior to digitising a mark, it can be helpful to share a sketch or two, making it easier for them to visualise the outcome without distraction from typefaces and colours. Don’t share too much, though – only the best ideas.
03. Work in black and white
Leaving colour until near the end helps you focus your attention on the basics of the idea rather than something that’s much easier to change. A poor idea can’t be rescued by an interesting palette, whereas a good idea will still be good regardless of colour. Picture a well-known symbol. Think of it now. It’s the form we remember before the palette. It’s the lines, the shapes, the idea, whether that’s the bite from an apple, three parallel stripes, four linked circles in a horizontal line, or something else.
04. Keep it appropriate
A mark must be relevant for the ideas and activities it represents. An elegant typeface will suit a high-end restaurant more than it will a children’s nursery. A palette of fluorescent pink and yellow isn’t going to help your message engage with male pensioners.
Crafting a mark that bears some resemblance to a swastika, regardless of industry, isn’t going to work. You know these things. They’re obvious. But it goes a little deeper. The more appropriate your rationale behind a particular design, the easier it becomes to sell the idea to a client. And that can often be the most challenging part of a project. Designers don’t just design. They sell, too.
05. Aim for easy recall
Simplicity aids recognition, especially when so many brands are competing for our attention. You want to give onlookers the opportunity to recall a mark after just a quick glance, and that’s not possible with an overly detailed design. A trademark has to be focused in concept – have a single ‘story’ – and in most cases must be uncomplicated in form. This is because it needs to work at a variety of sizes and in a range of applications, from a website icon in a browser bar to signage on a building.
06. Strive for difference
When your clients’ competitors are all using a particular typographic style, or the same kind of palette, or a symbol placed on the left of the brand name, do something different. It gives you the perfect opportunity to set your clients apart rather than have them blend in.
But so much similarity in the marketplace doesn’t necessarily mean your job has become easier, because it takes a brave client to buck the trend. By showing imagination in your portfolio, you’re on your way to attracting the kind of client you want.
07. Consider the broader identity
It’s rare when you see a logo in isolation, on its own without the context of a website or business card or drinks menu or app icon. That’s why a client presentation needs to encompass a variety of relevant touchpoints to show how a logo appears when seen by potential customers. It’s a little like when you’re stuck in a rut – it can help to step back, to look at the bigger picture, to see where you are, what you’re surrounded by.
In design terms, the bigger picture is every potential item on which a client logo might appear. But always consider how the identity works when the logo isn’t shown, because while important, a symbol will only take an identity so far. One way to achieve cohesive visuals is to craft a bespoke typeface that’s not only used in the logo, but that’s also seen in marketing headlines.
08. Don’t be too literal
A logo doesn’t have to show what the company does, in fact, it’s better if it doesn’t, because the more abstract the mark, the more enduring it can become. Historically you’d show your factory, or maybe a heraldic crest if it was a family-run business, but symbols don’t show what you do. Instead, they make it clear who you are. The meaning in the eyes of the public gets added afterwards, when associations can be formed between what the company does and the shape and colour of its mark.
09. Remember symbols aren’t essential
Often a bespoke wordmark will do the job, especially when the company name is unique, such as Google, Mobil, or Pirelli. But a version of the logo that works in small confines will always help. That might be as simple as lifting a letter from the name and using the same colour, or it might incorporate a symbol that can be used as a secondary design element (wordmark first, symbol second) instead of as a logo lockup where both pieces are shown alongside one another.
Don’t be tempted to overdo the design flair just because the focus is on the letters. Legibility is key with any wordmark, and your presentations should demonstrate how your designs work at all sizes, large and small.
10. Make people smile
Injecting some wit into the work will not only make your job more fun, but it can help your client to become more successful, too. It won’t be appropriate for every profession, such as weapons manufacturers and tobacco firms, but whether you choose to work with those companies is another thing. The somewhat less contentious law and financial sectors are filled with companies identified by stuffy and sterile branding, putting some humour into the identity for such clients is one way to set them apart.
There’s a balance, though. Take it too far and you risk alienating potential customers. But regardless of the company, people do business with people, so a human, emotional side to your work will always have a level of relevance.
Before pen hits paper on any new logo design project, thorough research is essential. Here are five logo design tips for nailing this crucial first stage of the process.
11. Understand your competition
Before you even start working up a logo design concept, ensure you research your target market thoroughly. Your client should be able to provide some information about their competitors to get you started.
Compare all the logos in their competitive set. This research may well reveal some entrenched branding conventions in that market sector, and that can sometimes help your process by playing on familiar visual associations.
But bear in mind that many of the world’s most recognisable logo designs stand out specifically because they eschew trends and think differently.
12. Ask the right questions
Strategy is becoming an increasingly important part of the branding process. What this means in practice will often depend on the scale of the project, but it all starts with asking the right questions.
Michael Johnson’s book Branding: In Five and a Half Steps is dedicated to Johnson Banks’ creative process, and covers complex challenges such as formulating brand strategy in far more detail than we could ever hope to here.
In it, Johnson advocates asking the following six things of the brand you’re working on as a starting point:
Why are we here?
What do we do, and how do we do it?
What makes us different?
Who are we here for?
What do we value the most?
What’s our personality?
13. Stay flexible during the process
Once you’ve formulated a strategy, you don’t have to set it in stone. There’s a reason that Johnson Banks’ creative process has that extra half step: that ‘and how do we do it’ part of the question represents the grey area between strategy and design.
According to Johnson, it can be a two-way street. Some conceptual, strategic ideas that work in theory may fall apart in practice when visualised; conversely, a compelling visual solution that emerges from left-field during the design stage can feed back into stage two and help evolve the strategy retrospectively.
14. Respect a brand’s heritage
Widely heralded as a trend, the so-called ’retro branding’ movement was kicked off by North’s much-lauded rebrand of Co-op, which reinvigorated its original 1960s mark and won one of Computer Arts magazine’s coveted Brand Impact Awards in 2016 in the process.
NatWest and Kodak followed within a few months, but we argued here on CB that we should be wary of the retro design trend. However, where genuine heritage and untapped potential exists in a mark, avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water and consider bringing it to the fore.
“It’s vital to put your ego to one side and not dismiss designs created by others – and in doing so consider evolution as well as revolution,” argued North co-founder Stephen Gilmore in an essay in Computer Arts.
15. Remember: a logo is just one ingredient
As Brand Impact Awards judges Bruce Duckworth and Mark Bonner discuss in this video filmed during 2016’s judging day, logo design is just one small part of the modern branding process.
As Bonner puts it, the pyramid has inverted: people now engage with a brand through a huge variety of different touchpoints, and the logo is not always their first point of contact with a brand.
Keep this in mind as you develop your logo design: stay versatile and flexible, and consider how the logo interacts with the rest of the brand experience, from packaging to tone of voice.
Learn logo 101
An effective logo is distinctive, appropriate, practical, graphic, simple in form and conveys an intended message. In its simplest form, a logo is there to identify but to do this effectively it must follow the basic principles of logo design:
A logo must be simple. A simple logo design allows for easy recognition and allows the logo to be versatile and memorable. Effective logos feature something unexpected or unique without being overdrawn.
A logo must be memorable. Following closely behind the principle of simplicity is that of memorability. An effective logo design should be memorable and this is achieved by having a simple yet appropriate logo.
A logo must be enduring. An effective logo should endure the test of time. The logo should be ‘future proof’, meaning that it should still be effective in 10, 20, 50+ years time.
A logo must be versatile. An effective logo should be able to work across a variety of mediums and applications.
A logo must be appropriate. How you position the logo should be appropriate for its intended purpose. For a more detailed explanation see: What makes a good logo?
Establish your own design process
Every designer has his or her own process, and it is rarely linear, but in general this is how the branding process is completed, which can be used as a guide to establish your own.
Design brief. Conduct a questionnaire or interview with the client to get the design brief.
Research. Conduct research focused on the industry itself, its history, and its competitors.
Reference. Conduct research into logo designs that have been successful and current styles and trends that are related to the design brief.
Sketching and conceptualising. Develop the logo design concepts around the brief and research.
Reflection. Take breaks throughout the design process. This allows your ideas to mature and lets you get renewed enthusiasm. Receive feedback.
Presentation. Choose to present only a select few logos to the client or a whole collection. Get feedback and repeat until completed.
Ask the right questions
A common pitfall before starting a new branding project is to fail to ask the right questions, which includes research on your behalf too. Before you begin your development, get as much information as you can from the client about their business, goals, target market, etc. If possible, try their service or product, visit their store – really get to know them and their requirements.
Some important questions you should ask your client before beginning:
How much do you plan to dedicate to this project?
Do you have a fixed deadline or timeline in mind for the project?
What are your goals and why?
What product or service does your business offer?
Who is your target audience and who is your most ideal customer?
Who are your competitors and how do you differ from them?
By knowing what other brands have succeeded in and why they have succeeded gives you great insight and you can apply that attained knowledge to your own work.
For example, let’s look at the classic Nike Swoosh (above). This logo was created by Caroline Davidson in 1971 and it’s a great example of a strong, memorable logo, being effective without colour and easily scalable.
Not only is it simple, fluid and fast but it also has related symbolism; it represents the wing in the famous statue of the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, which is a perfect figure for a sporting apparel business. Nike is just one of many great logos, but think about other famous brands that you know and check out their logos – what makes them successful?
For more quality logos, check out Logo Of The Day or go to your local library/book shop and check out some branding books.
Make use of the resources
There are hundreds of resources available, both offline and online, that are dedicated purely to logo and brand design. Here are some of the best:
When it comes to logos, choosing the right font can make or break the design. Font choice can often take as long as the creation of the logo mark itself, and both the font and mark should work towards the same goal(s).
Spend time researching all the various fonts that could be used for the project, narrow them down further, and then see how each gels with the logo mark, keeping in mind how the logo will used across the rest of the brand identity, in combination with other fonts and imagery.
Don’t be afraid to purchase a font, modify one, or create your own. Also stay aware of font licensing issues, especially in free fonts, as they often cannot be used commercially.
Light bulbs for ‘ideas’, speech bubbles for ‘discussion’, globes for ‘international’, etc. These ideas are often the first things to pop into one’s head when brainstorming, and for the same reason should be the first ideas discarded. How is your design going to be unique when so many other logos feature the same idea? Stay clear of these visual clichés and come up with an original idea and design.
With this said, please do not steal, copy or ‘borrow’ other designs. Although, this shouldn’t have to be said, it happens too often. A designer sees an idea that he likes, does a quick mirror, colour swap or word change, and then calls the idea his own. Not only is this unethical, illegal and downright stupid but you’re also going to get caught sooner or later. Do not use stock or clip art either — the point of a logo is to be unique and original.
Limit the concepts sent
Go wild exploring ideas, but don’t provide your client with too many options. This means the client will have too much control over the design direction of the project, whereas the designer should be the director – unless you are hired by an agency and have already been given design direction.
If you provide 10 to 20 concepts to a client, more often than not they will choose what you consider the less superior design. A good rule of thumb is to only send one to three concepts that you personally could see working for their business. Of course, the number of concepts you send can change from project to project, but once you feel confident enough as a designer, these one to three concepts should nail the project on the head every time.
A closing word
These logo design tips should help you become a better logo designer in theory. However, it’s important to state that although lists such as this are a good starting point, they should not hold you back – rules are made to be broken and there is no ‘right’ way when it comes to logo design. Sketch, explore and create! Then repeat.
Also, it’s important to remember that your logo is not your brand, nor is it your identity. Logo design, identity design and branding all have different roles that together form a perceived image for a business or product. Now that you have learned about logo design, you should learn how logos fit into the whole brand identity.
The worst logo applied well is better than the best logo applied poorly.
Brutalist Preston Bus Station refurbished by John Puttick Associates
Preston bus station has been a mecca for Architecture photographers since it was built in the Brutalist architectural style between 1968 and 1969. John Puttick Associates has completed the renovation of the Grade II-listed bus station. The architects have restored the interiors and updated the layout of the bus station, which was at one time scheduled for demolition.
Original elements, including rubber floors by Italian tire brand Pirelli and Iroko hardwood benches, have been lovingly restored, and the layout reworked by the architects into a space that has been modernised to prioritise pedestrian access.
“We wanted to celebrate the existing building and the design of the building,” said Puttick, founder of John Puttick Associates.
Built in 1969 by British firm Building Design Partnership (now BDP) architects Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson, its vast 170-metre-long length made it the largest bus station on Europe.
Ingham has said of his design that the bus station was intended to invoke the glamour of 1960s air travel.
“Everybody talks about it being an example of that period of Brutalist architecture,” said Puttick. “But it transcends that because, regardless of what label you put on it, in the end what’s important about it is it’s just such a well designed building.”
At the time it was though that Preston was poised to become an economic centre, and the station would accommodate the accompanying influx of people. Instead, the overlarge bus station languished and fell into disrepair.
“A lot of the original colours had been changed and there was signage everywhere. It was a bit of a mess,” said Puttick. “But the good thing is the original building was built from such robust and good quality materials that under the surface all of that was still there.”
“Once we’d removed all the clutter it was possible to bring them back to life,” he added. Beneath layers of chewing gum and grime, the original Pirelli rubber floors were still in excellent condition. The white tile work running through the central spine of the building are the originals, and signs with Helvetica typeface have been reinstated.
Durable Iroko timber used for benches and dividing barriers had scratches and scuff marks buffed out. On the west side of the building where the architects removed the barriers, Iroko was repurposed to create more benches and for the trimming on the information desk.
Some benches have been kept in situ, and one of the curved ones – Puttick’s personal favourites – has been relocated to the new 24-hour bus station lounge. When the station was originally built in the car-mad 1960s it was designed to be accessed primarily by four wheels, but now it prioritises its pedestrian visitors.
“When you get in the building it’s much more comfortable as a person waiting for a bus or just generally enjoying the building, compared to how it was before,” said Puttick.
“But we’ve tried to bring that about without really changing the character of the architecture itself, because it was so strong in the first place.”
Photographs of the station
The Bus Station is a great place to take architectural photographs as can be seen by simon.G.man‘s recent .
From pies at Bury market to gluten-free brownies in the Northern Quarter, photographer Martin Parr finds signs of change amid the ephemeral and the mundane.
At Manchester Art Gallery, in the beating heart of England’s most happening city, Martin Parr is his latest exhibition. It’s called Return to Manchester, and the title is telling. Parr is a southern softy, born and raised in Surrey, but it was as a photography student at Manchester Polytechnic in the early 1970s that he found his creative focus. His first exhibition, back in 1971, was just down the road, in a corridor at Kendal Milne department store. Half a century later he’s back in the metropolis that made him, to open a one man show of Mancunian photos, then and now.
It’s an exhibition of two halves: black and white photographs of the rundown Manchester of the 1970s; colour photos of the dynamic Manchester of today. Wry and playful, yet imbued with a deep, unspoken sense of melancholy, it’s a profound and powerful evocation of the way that Manchester – and Martin Parr – has changed. “I had a fantastic time in Manchester,” he says, and his affection for the city – then and now – is evident in these photos.
The earliest photographs in the show were taken while he was still at college, and the images that encapsulate the Manchester of the early 1970s are the June Street photos he took with his friend and fellow student, Daniel Meadows. They’d gone in search of Coronation Street, but the street which inspired the Salford soap opera had already been demolished. However, a few scenes had been shot on June Street, an adjacent street which had survived.
Instead of photographing the drab exteriors of these terraced houses, they ventured within. Their portraits of the people they found inside exude the poise and dignity of Old Masters, which is ironic, for Parr has often been accused of being a photographer who takes the piss. “Unless there’s some vulnerability there, I don’t think you’re going to get good photographs,” he once said. There’s vulnerability here aplenty, and that’s what makes these portraits so appealing.
June Street was one of several photographic projects which Parr undertook, entirely of his own accord, during his student days in Manchester. A series of photos inside Prestwich Mental Hospital captured the bleak ambience of that institution, but it was his Love Cubes series (which doubled as a board game) that epitomised his sense of fun. Parr photographed couples on the streets of Manchester, together and then separately. The idea of the game is to try and work out who’s going out with whom.
Half a lifetime later these student projects still feel fresh and vital, but Parr’s course was a vocational training for a career as a commercial photographer, and so his superiors weren’t impressed. He could have been chucked out if it hadn’t been for Alan Murgatroyd, the one tutor who fought his corner. Happily, after all these years, Murgatroyd is still with us, and he appeared as the guest of honour to open Parr’s new show.
“What Manchester Polytechnic taught me is to fight my own corner,” he says. Parr left Manchester when he graduated, but he kept coming back to take photos. Point of Sale, shot in Salford in 1986, was a sharp depiction of everyday commerce, from Tupperware parties to Kwik Save. This was a side of life we all recognised but had never scrutinised before
For this show Parr has returned to Manchester to shoot a new set of photographs, and the city of today feels a world away from the city of his student days. It’s multicultural and, above all, colourful – from Media City to the Eithad, from mosques to yoga classes, from royal wedding street parties to Gay Pride. “It was unimaginable, 30 or 40 years ago, that Pride would have such a big impact in a city like Manchester,” he says. From pies at Bury market to gluten-free brownies in the Northern Quarter, like an anthropologist Parr finds signs of change amid the ephemeral and the mundane.
Has any British city changed more than Manchester since Parr arrived here in 1970? I doubt it. But the rest of Britain has changed almost as much, and Parr has chronicled that change with more wit and insight than any other artist I know. What makes his vision so acute? To try and find out, I travelled to Bristol, where he’s lived since 1987, to meet this elusive and enigmatic man who excels at examining the minutiae of our daily lives.
We meet at his studio, on an industrial estate on the scruffy side of Bristol. His studio is tidy and businesslike (not for him the chaotic squalor of the tortured, tormented artist). His appearance is similarly anodyne, almost anonymous – nondescript leisurewear, neither smart nor scruffy. His manner is friendly but noncommittal – warm smile, wary eyes. He speaks quietly, clearly, lucidly. His voice is classless, rootless. He chooses his words with care.
“I was fully aware that Manchester had changed enormously in the 35 years since I lived there,” he says. “There are now two Manchesters – there’s the traditional one and the gentrified one, so I went to both.”
He’s broadly enthusiastic about the gentrification of the city, but he can see the downside too. “Gentrification can be a mixed blessing. It can tend to kill off the sense of community that was there before – richer, younger people move in – but in the end I think without it these places would suffer even more.”
As befits a born observer, accustomed to travelling incognito, he’s used to blending into the background. With his pleasant but forgettable face, his neat grey hair and his bland chainstore clothes, he’d make a good private detective. He looks more like a middle ranking civil servant than a famous photographer – which is fitting, for that was his father’s job (though his passion was ornithology). Martin used to accompany him on his birdwatching trips – though Martin always used to watch the birdwatchers, not the birds.
He was born in 1952 in Epsom, the buckle in the commuter belt. His parents were Methodists (“I went to Sunday School and argued with the teachers”), comfortably off, in a humdrum way, and reasonably contented. He has one sibling, a sister, seven years younger, which made him almost an only child. It sounds like a barren beginning for a creative artist, but the absence of high drama compelled him to look more closely, more keenly, at the world around him. “The advantage of coming from suburban Surrey is that everywhere else looks more interesting.” He was a meticulous collector, and a quintessential trainspotter. He still collects all sorts of trash-aesthetic bric-a-brac today.
His main inspiration was his paternal grandfather, George Parr, a lay preacher and a keen amateur photographer, who lived in Calverley, in West Yorkshire. George taught him the rudiments of photography. For Martin, it was love at first sight. “There was never any doubt. As soon as I saw it, I thought ‘That’s the medium for me – that’s what I want to be.’” Martin’s summer holidays in Calverley were among his happiest childhood memories. ‘I’ve always had a soft spot for Yorkshire – my father’s from Yorkshire, I’ve got Yorkshire in my blood.’ His first photographic project was a study of Harry Ramsden’s, the celebrated Yorkshire fish and chip shop. It was here that his passion for photography – and the north of England – began.
Martin passed his 11-plus and went to Surbiton Grammar School, but compared with his Yorkshire apprenticeship school was distinctly uninspiring. He was a mediocre student and his teachers were underwhelmed. His school report makes interesting (and, in retrospect, amusing) reading. ‘He has considerable flair for photography and a certain amount of ability in the art field, but there seems to be little chance of realising his potential if his attitude to his general work continues to be so poor,’ wrote his form tutor. “Very little work achieved – very lackadaisical,” concurred his art master.
It was only when he went to Manchester that he really spread his wings. In Manchester he encountered a sense of community more akin to the one he’d found in Calverley. “Coming from suburban Surrey, I was very taken with that – the friendliness of people, and how open they were.”
He lived in Moss Side, which was thrilling. “When they started demolishing Moss Side we used to go round and pick the stuff out of the old houses and photograph it – we had a great time.” Photography was his calling. Despite being on a course which didn’t suit him, making work for which there was no real outlet, he never doubted his abilities. “I knew what I wanted to do and why, and I just got on with it. I had total self-belief.”
In Manchester he met Susie Mitchell, an English student from the Home Counties who collaborated with him on various projects and subsequently became his wife. “In the 1970s, Manchester was an exciting place to live, like a foreign country after the outer London suburbs,” she wrote, in her eloquent introduction to The Non-conformists, his haunting book of photos of Yorkshire chapel life. “Swathes of condemned terraced housing, monstrous Victorian public buildings, acres of wasteland awaiting redevelopment, grimy parks and odiferous curry houses…” For Martin it was paradise.
After graduating from Manchester they moved to Hebden Bridge, where they formed close relationships with some of the subjects of The Non-conformists(Susie interviewed them; Martin photographed them). This intimacy resulted in some remarkable photos, but the relationship ended rather unhappily when some of their subjects realised, belatedly, that they were only photographic subjects (rather than soulmates) after all.
“I wasn’t a believer,” says Parr. “I respected their religion and I enjoyed partaking in it and photographing it.” However, he was essentially an atheist. From then on Martin kept his distance and his work became more detached. “You’re never part of what you photograph,” he says. “You’re always an outsider.”
Susie became a speech therapist, a job that took her to Ireland and then to Merseyside. Martin went with her and on Merseyside he found the subject that made his name. His stark photos of New Brighton (a rundown seaside resort near Liverpool) were revolutionary. For one thing, they were in colour (a medium still shunned by so-called “serious” photographers) but above all it was his stark treatment of these Liverpudlian daytrippers which broke new ground.
Parr showed New Brighton in all its gory glory – the fractious toddlers, the bored parents, the litter, the fast food… There was nothing falsified about it, but there was nothing prettified about it either, and for middle class audiences used to quaint depictions of the worthy poor, it was a rude awakening. “This is a clammy, claustrophobic nightmare world where people lie knee deep in chip papers, swim in polluted black pools and stare at a bleak horizon of urban dereliction,” wrote Robert Morris in the British Journal of Photography. Parr called his series The Last Resort.
The show was well received in Liverpool. Ironically, it was when it went to London that the reaction became more critical. “Our historic working class, normally dealt with generously by documentary photographers, becomes a sitting duck for a more sophisticated audience,” wrote David Lee in Art Review. “They appear fat, simple, styleless, tediously conformist and unable to assert any individual identity. They wear cheap flashy clothes and in true conservative fashion are resigned to their meagre lot. Only babies and children survive ridicule, and it is their inclusion in many pictures which gives Parr’s acerbic vision of hopelessness its poetic touch.”
With the hindsight of history, this seems rather unfair. Parr’s vision is acerbic but he never ridicules his subjects. On the contrary, his day-trippers actually seem rather admirable, striving to give their children a nice day out in the face of overwhelming odds. Merseyside was a pretty hopeless place in 1986. Like all good photographers, Parr was simply shooting what he saw.
“I don’t think I’m out there to take the piss, particularly. There has to be a sense of mischief, because that’s part of the British make-up and identity, but the mischief is applied equally to everything and anybody, because life is weird. People are strange, and people are entertaining. I do like people – I love what they all get up to.’”Most of the things he photographs are things he does himself.
He’s impervious to criticism of his work. “I realised pretty early on that that controversial aspect to what I do never does you any harm,” he says. “I’m very democratic when it comes to classes – I put it up all classes.” He followed up The Last Resort with several projects about the bourgeoisie.
“I realised that I was very middle class, and I was almost guilty about that. It was the time of Thatcher, I was flourishing under Thatcher’s regime, and I was basically exploring my guilt and making it a therapeutic process – and also photographing a class that I felt had been overlooked by photographers, because photographers tend to be attracted to the rich and the poor.”
If anything, these projects were even more acerbic, attracting further criticism. One picture editor called him “a gratuitously cruel social critic who has made a large amount of money by sneering at the foibles and pretentions of other people”. Again, this seems unfair. It’s hardly Parr’s fault that he’s made a decent living, and it seems harsh to describe his stance as sneering. He delights in bathos and absurdity, but his vision is dispassionate, not cruel. “I continue to be amazed that people still find my work controversial, because I’m just photographing western life, the leisure pursuits of the western world.”
One of his most successful series, Small World, was about mass tourism, a phenomenon which straddles every class. “We have this idea of what a place would be like because we’ve seen it in the pictures and the postcards. When we get there the reality is quite different. I’m showing the reality of peoples’ expectations.”
As beauty spots become tourist traps, that reality is pretty grim – but for Parr, it makes great photos. “I find it completely fascinating. Remember: when a place is mobbed I’m happy, because I can make my point even clearer.” And the point is? “That the mythology is different to the reality.”
The overall conclusion one draws from Parr’s photos is that consumerism is pretty tawdry, and globalisation is making a bad situation even worse. And yet, individually, his photos are full of fun. “That’s all part of the contradiction – the ambiguity is what this is all about.”
Back in Manchester, Martin is winding up his tour. “Most of the pictures I take are rubbish – I take more rubbish than most people because I take more photographs than most people,” he says. “What you’re trying to find is that magic moment, and how and when that happens is almost impossible to predict. So, even though I’ve been doing it for many years, I couldn’t quite tell you how to do it – but you have a very strong intuitive sense when it starts to happen.”
It’s that intuitive sense, more than anything, which makes Martin Parr so special. It’s not about the camera. It’s all inside his head.
For 5 November 2018 you must have completed the following:
Post a minimum of 16 blogs (2 per week that commenced 10 September) that feature at least one paragraph of meaningful text accompanied by a few images.
We will like your post to indicate to you that we have viewed it and will add a comment on most of your posts. In return you must like the comment to indicate that you have read our comments and if you wish comment back yourself.
When you login to your WordPress you will see that we have liked or commented on your blog. Clicking on the bell icon in the top right hand corner of your page after you login (it turns to an orange bell when you have a like or comment) will display likes and comments on you blogs.
Artwork theme or photo photo walk (london trip) you have been on. This can include drawing/colour sketches/photographs that you have produced and recorded in your sketchbook. Min 3 double pages in your sketchbook.
The week’s summary of the Instagram shots you have taken (one post a day therefore seven closeups). 1 page every month in your sketchbook.
Gallery/art (Stolenspace Gallery – Artist Roa) work sighting (not just one image).
Mycamera (DSLR) in the form of a double page in your sketchbook, photographer and posted. 1 double page in your sketchbook.
The basics of photography. Double page in your sketchbook , photographer and posted on the following: Aperture, shutter Speed & ISO. Your own experimentation with Aperture, shutter Speed & ISO. Min 8 double pages in your sketchbook.
Your own photo shoots/walks. Min 2 double pages in your sketchbook.
Technique of art/photographic/Photoshop/Affinity.
These sketchbook pages will fill your sketchbook and form the posts for your blogs.
Posted a minimum of 60 One a Day Instagram Closeups.
Sketchbooks and practical work
As we have been looking at the urban environment use the two week half term break to apply what you have learnt from studying Urban Sketchers and Street Photographers and get out and use your cameras/smart phones to push your work on. Artist could spend some time sketching in situ. The photos and preparation work you take during this period can be worked on when you get back to school on the 5 November. If you crack on with what we have asked of you, things will click in place (excuse the pun) and become second nature. You will enjoy what you are doing even more and will get so much more out of life by noticing the world around us.
Your Pinterest can also be added to with any pins related to the theme we are looking at or areas you might want to pursue in the future.