Birmingham's famous 1972 concrete megastructure – which criscrosses the M6 and various other slip roads and expressways – makes as much sense from below as it does from above. Probably less so once you add in the Tame River, a fishing lake, three canals, a train track and those swooping forests of pillars.
The underbelly of the Gravelly Hill Interchange is a daunting place to visit alone. There is the grave-like monument to PC Michael Swindells, who was stabbed and killed in 2004 on the Tame Valley Canal while in pursuit of a knife-wielding paranoid schizophrenic. On today's visit there were three or four semi-threatening dirtbikers using it as their playground. Sadly there was litter everywhere – next time, I'll bring a bag.
But it is also desolately beautiful in its own way, with birdlife, an ongoing Bill Drummond artwork, stark lines and angles and reflections, the monolithic grandeur of the concrete supports, and the relentless chunking of the stitched highways carrying 'flying cars' overhead like a preview of a future that never came to be.
This is my fourth or fifth time visiting. The low winter sun brought me out this time but Spag Junction is impressive on every visit – and differently moody .
These 25 photos are from today's winter walk with Photo School. Pete leads walks there every winter, spring, summer and autumn so you get the effect of the changing seasons. The spring walk is on 26 April 2020. Details here…
As humans we tend to look for patterns and perhaps see shapes in clouds or faces in objects. I'm definitely a human who likes to organise and categorise and edit.
Back in January I had that fresh, free, new year reset feeling and kind of went a bit mad on the New Year Resolutions. A lot of this list was about developing habits because a habit is less draining and more sustainable in the long run.
So one of the 'creative' goals was to run a little photo challenge. Each month I'd photograph things of a certain colour and then mash them into a little video diary using the 1SE phone app (1 Second Everyday).
The spectrum started with the seven basic rainbow colours, beginning with blue just because it was an unusually clear and sunny New Year break in Wales:
Jan – blue
Feb – indigo
March – violet
April – red
May – orange
July – green
After July, I started looking for white, black, silver/grey and other shades.
The seven shades of the rainbow turned out to be a blunt tool for colour and the project has since morphed into one featuring many, many, many more colour variations. The chronology has also had to be rewritten in favour of the colours blending and slowly shifting.
So here's my 2019 visual diary sorted into colour order, roughly: turquoise, cyan blue, sky blue, indigo, violet, pink, magenta, red, brown, gold, vermillion, orange, saffron, yellow, apple green, leaf green, grey, white, beige, silver and black. (Video below, or the flattened version is here.)
Some of my favourite things that happened in 2019 and are worth looking out for with some context are:
the other-worldly reflections of the Cregennan Lakes, south Snowdonia – a lovely kickoff to the year
investing in proper ballet shoes – spot the Birmingham Royal Ballet studio for a public workshop later in the year
a Christmas gift of Speedo swimming aids – these have made the pool a lot more fun
Stirchley High Street Stories was a community photography project which ran from March to June 2019. Last night it launched its popup exhibition and newspaper at Artefact in Stirchley. The gallery runs to Saturday, with a print run of 100 newspapers for visitors to view or take away.
The project was organised by Ghost Streets CIC led by Tracey Thorne and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. A group of volunteers met three times for photowalks along Stirchley high street, from Fordhouse Lane to Bournville Lane junction. We attended a workshop run by Photo School on how to tell stories with photographs. Then we each chose a theme or story to focus on.
First I collected colour in the form of Stirchley's shutters (which made a vertical grid on the back cover). But post-workshop I decided to get a different perspective and take a 'camera dog' for a walk down the high street – essentially a GoPro on a monopod.
I'm really pleased with the results. The wide angles and foot-high shooting position were perfect. I decided to process them in black and white because that's how we used to think dogs saw the world. Apparently they do have some colour vision and see the world as basically yellow, blue, and grey (no red or green).
Other themes from the rest of the team include: curry houses, Hunts Road junction, Browell's tobacconist, Stirchley swatches, shopfronts, things for sale, uncommon places, and fusions and tensions (with some lovely poetic captions from P-Bantz, aka Phil Banting).
A selection of photos is on Stirchleyhighstreet.tumblr.com and under the Instagram hashtag #stirchleyhighstreet. Here are some of my A Dog's Eye View photo stories, including new ones not in the newspaper.
Final thoughts on 'what next' after the scroll…
Hopefully there will be a followup from this. Stirchley is changing massively at the moment and already the high street looks different with the Wild Cat reopening and others due to follow. See:
With everything in flux and several wastelands awaiting development, it would be great to have an Issue 2 next year at the least.
Personally I'm hoping for more multimedia stories, using video and audio – to create a living record of the transition and the community that is creating that change. A 'Humans of Stirchley' piece maybe, to bring the high street to life for future generations.
Who wants to be videoed or photographed/interviewed so I can practise my storytelling/photojournalism?
Or I might start to take my interest in Stirchley in new direction. I've enjoyed getting back to photography and taking a more artistic approach to my local area.
This Sunday sees the fourth and final session (for me) of Photographing the City – Matt and Pete's sociable, how-to photography course set on the streets of Birmingham and featuring a pleasant mix of arty/techy teaching, walking, socialising, photographing stuff (more egs below) and peer review.
Sometimes holiday snaps produce something a little bit more artistic. I particularly like this moody photograph (of Pete) taken on the top of the rainy Parking 58 car park in Brussels. Why were we on a car park roof in the rain? Find out here. More Brussels trip posts are on Tourist Vs Traveller.
So today was week two (of four) of Matt & Pete's Photo School. Last month, we played with finding the decisive moment in street photography, this time it was landscapes and creating huge panoramic vistas using the iconic buildings of Birmingham.
Today was the inaugural five-hour lesson of Matt & Pete's Photo School in which 10 strangers met upstairs in Birmingham's Victoria pub to learn more about photography and how to improve our own efforts.
The framework of the day – after tea and coffee – involved an hour of learning a bit about the technical side of how a camera works, a bit about Henri Cartier-Bresson and a bit about the theory and style of street photography.
Every year when I renew my Flickr account I pick out my favourite 50 photos (here is last year's set). Except this year I seem to have overshot the mark with 75 on the short long list. Consume in whichever way you want: by Flickr set, thumbnail screengrab (above) or pretty slideshow (below).