A Dying Breed?

There have been a couple of recent reports in the media that resonated with me due to a set of pictures I took on my recent travels in Liverpool.

The first related to a threatened withdrawal of the city’s UNESCO world heritage status.  The international organisation usually describes sites as at risk when they are in civil war zones, or in countries run by regimes that might actively destroy its heritage.  In Liverpool’s case, it is a proposed development that is feared will completely unbalance the cityscape, dwarfing the “Three Graces” beneath soaring towers inspired by the Shanghai waterfront.  Responding to criticisms, the development director responsible was quoted as saying

“Unesco status is a badge on the wall, but we cannot afford to fossilise our city.”

The second report was reviewing the impact of the decade since it became illegal to smoke in enclosed workspaces.  One of the charts described the decline in the number of British pubs in that period.  Thousands have closed, and I regularly see evidence of this on my travels.  I’m sure some photographer will soon produce an art book of monochrome prints detailing this decline, but for now here’s my contribution.  Five former hostelries whose day has certainly passed and all within the same route from the city centre out towards Bootle.

What interested me about these buildings is that despite their obvious decay, there was attention to detail in their original designs.  These were never great cathedrals, but to the working man they were important.  In fact their very existence strung out along the same route tells a story.  A story of dock workers thirsty from the hard physical labour of loading and unloading shipping needing a place to quench that thirst and share stories that belied the dangerous work they undertook.  With the move to container shipping many of those dangers have gone, but so have the jobs, which is why this stretch of road lies derelict along the canal and railside.  Social and economic factors rather than the smoking ban.  Some of the land has already been reclaimed for housing, but there is a huge opportunity for more.

My first pub is the Athol Vaults, which looks to this Sunderland native like a former Vaux Breweries pub.  Though the least ornate, even here there are mouldings on the woodwork.

There’s the Melrose Abbey, probably the most recent closure of the group.  Grimy now, but in its day that coloured brickwork would have been a nice touch.

Not to be confused with the Melrose Abbey, is the Melrose, whose imposing tower has a real touch of the Scottish Baronial style of architecture.  Decorated with intricate terracotta tiles that even the residents no longer notice, this has been converted into apartments.  One tenant spotted me taking pictures and invited me in, but if there was ever an equally grand interior all trace has been lost now.

My fourth casualty is The Knowsley, well-sited on a busy corner and with lots of decorative detail.  Referred to as “The Round House” for obvious reasons, it’s now a low-budget B&B.

Which brings me to my final victim.  The Royal.  Even its proximity to Bank Hall railway station hasn’t brought it customers and now it’s roof is crumbling away.  Another structure whose tower makes something of a statement.

It seems to me that this is an area ripe for the influx of the development money that is planned to destroy the character of the waterfront.  If only the developers took as much care as the designers of these humble watering holes.

Hope Street

It might seem a little greedy to have not one, but two cathedrals that are each architectural masterpieces in the same city, but Liverpool takes it further by siting them on the same street with just half a mile between them. Technically the Anglican building’s address is St James’ Mount, but head south on Hope Street from the Metropolitan Cathedral and you’ll find it.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the street must therefore owe its name to some religious aspiration, but in fact it predates the two buildings and derives from a merchant called William Hope.  In fact as the 19th century drew to a close Liverpool had no cathedral at all.  An act of parliament provided authorisation for one in 1885, but the plans were abandoned when the proposed site was found to be unsuitable.

As the 20th century began the idea was revived and a competition held for the design of what was to become the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool; the Anglican cathedral.  The competition winner was Giles Gilbert Scott, a controversial choice since he was 22, had no prior experience and was a Roman Catholic.  (In fairness he was part of a design dynasty).

The Catholic cathedral had it’s own false starts; a Pugin design didn’t progress very far and was demolished in 1980. In 1930 Edwin Lutyens submitted his huge design, which would have been second in size only to St Peters in Rome (though with a larger dome).  World War II intervened and costs soared to until in 1958 with only the crypt complete, work was abandoned.  In a remarkable turnaround a design competition for this structure was held in 1959 and Frederick Gibberd’s cathedral was consecrated in 1967.  This is the unique building variously known as “Paddy’s Wigwam”, “The Mersey Funnel” and more accurately the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.

It’s modern, spacious and full of contemporary art.  A complete contrast to the Anglican building which had been growing steadily down the road but was still incomplete.  Queen Elizabeth dedicated Scott’s Gothic Revival over a decade later in 1978.

If I enjoyed the freshness of the Catholic building I was simply astonished by the Anglican.  It’s the longest cathedral in the world, possibly the largest Anglican cathedral (in competition with St John’s, New York), and one of the tallest too (if you exclude spires).  You might but that last fact down to the enormous tower, but to do so would be to overlook the height of the nave alone.  It soars.  It’s breathtaking.

It’s a quarter century since I was last in St Peters (I need to rectify that) so the impact of that church has long subsided.  For now I’ll just remain in awe of Liverpool’s Anglican option.  It’s neighbour might have had greater impact in a city where it stood alone, or had Pugin or Lutyens completed their efforts, but can it compete in the city of two cathedrals.  It doesn’t have a hope.  Despite the street name.

Referenced in Song

I’ve some things in common with Tony Corbell, the award-winning photographer. We both shoot with Canon, we’re both heavily involved with training and photography; it’s just that for him the latter is his main wage earner and the former is something he believes in very strongly; sharing knowledge and experience. Those roles are reversed for me of course but this week I found something else in common with him.

He describes himself as the “biggest fan in the world*” of an English group of musicians who achieved some success in the 1960’s, and so one of his personal projects has been to document things and places mentioned in their songs over the years. Coincidentally in the same week that I was watching one of his training videos explaining this, I found myself in the same city where he has shot so much of this project.

It’s a city I’ve worked in before and so I didn’t come expecting to capture any great shots; I won a ViewBug challenge last year for images from this city, so felt I’d been there, done that. I had an entirely different landscape in mind to shoot nearby, but in the short excursion from my hotel in search of food and drink I couldn’t help myself. Like Glasgow the architecture here seems to have so many autobiographical tales to tell of the city’s past.

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One of the world’s major ports, there are tales of slavery and immigration, heroism, death, artistry, poverty and wealth to be discerned from the names and decoration of the buildings and public spaces here.  As I was staying in the commercial district it was predominantly the wealth that I encountered through banks and insurance companies and building names such as West Africa House and New Zealand House.

The Town Hall is 18th Century, and whilst it lacks the braggadocio of Manchester’s structure it is a fine Georgian building with some unusual decoration that again reflects the city’s international role and is topped of course by Britannia, ruler of the waves that brought this affluence.

My intended subject on this trip was a location aimed at protecting the city and its important trade.  Money talks.

Which brings me back to Tony Corbell and his fandom.  In case you haven’t yet recognised the city, here and some images that might just clinch it for you, and a couple of lines from one of the songs his idols recorded:

The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That’s what I want

(Further clue – I’m not talking about The Flying Lizards!)

*A claim that would surely be disputed by my old school friend and bass-player, George Mitchell.  We never rivalled these guys:

Aint it Grand?

Just a short post to reflect a flying visit made to Merseyside this week.  I might not have taken any pictures at all were it not for the fact that my hotel was within the grounds of a legendary Liverpool landmark.

As you might expect from a site where huge sums of cash change hands, the place has a clean and well-groomed air about it, but much of the architecture is functional rather than imaginative.  There was one building that did catch my eye however, its futuristic design contrasting with the white, blocky shapes elsewhere on the site._PW_9918_19_20_21_22

I’m not sure why, because I know they have little in common, but I was reminded of the Mercedes Museum at Brooklands.

But then with hindsight I did see a similarity – both overlook race tracks, both have seen many thoroughbreds compete.

Have you guessed where I was?  Perhaps I could make it easier for you by stepping back to take a wider shot, one that includes the most famous competitor to have tasted glory here.

The horse is Red Rum, which means I’m at Aintree, home of The Grand National.  Wasted on me I’m afraid; if I want to witness speed on an oval track I’d opt for a velodrome.  Interesting building though._PW_9923_4_5_6_7

Think Before You Speke

APW_2289_90_91My usual base of operations in the Widnes area being fully booked, I found accommodation a little further afield on the fringes of Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, whose signage manages to borrow a line from Imagine without being completely cheesy (though I did have to remove the street lights from the picture to give truth to the quotation)

APW_2280_HDR-EditThis is the region of Liverpool’s motor manufacturing industry, the Halewood Jaguar/Land Rover plant being nearby; suppliers of two of the world’s favourite luxury brands.  Makes you proud to be British, though of course they are both owned by the Indian Tata Group!

Inevitably the area is peppered with factories and warehouses supplying the car plant, which means that even a fifth floor hotel room doesn’t benefit from the most beautiful vistas. untitled-1_HDR Even a moody sunset does little to prettify the surroundings.  untitled-10_HDR

Scanning the panorama that includes the airport control tower, you have the additional  though dubious benefit of the tanks and chimneys of the refineries of Ellesmere Port.  To be fair, the hills of the Clwydian Range, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are visible on the horizon to the right of the view though so distant as to be irrelevant to the overall impression.

APW_2292_3_4-EditAnd yet there is a small patch of woodland in the centre of this industry, an oasis of heritage in a desert of progress.  The dual carriageway that streams passengers to the airport, morphs into a tree-lined avenue beyond it.  This is Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion that fell into disrepair and ruination before being restored by the Victorians and eventually being passed to the National Trust just before the Second World War.APW_2259_HDR

My work schedule meant that I wouldn’t have time to explore its secret defences (the house was built by Catholics; targets for persecution in the era of the Hall’s construction) or encounter any of the spirits that make it one of Britains most haunted buildings, but I thought I’d have time to shoot a few images of the exterior at least, capturing the typical black and white Tudor exterior, and from a distance I did. That was as far as I got though.  Until July, the property is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Another time perhaps.

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Fabulous Four And Graces Three

Liverpool Town Hall
Liverpool Town Hall

In my short(!) life I’ve seen some major changes affect Northern England’s largest city. Perhaps “seen” isn’t wholly accurate, because I’d barely spent anytime in Liverpool before this year, so the changes I have witnessed have presented, and therefore filtered, through the national media.

In my early years Liverpool was synonymous with the mop tops and other pop sensations of the sixties. Merseybeat was at its height, and though the Beatles are still celebrated here (the airport is named after Lennon even), there were many others with their roots here:  Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Cilla Black and Ronald Wycherley.  Hang on, Ronald who?  You may know him as Billy Fury.

In the decades that followed the city fell into decline, the docks that had been the city’s beating heart were in cardiac arrest as the move towards containers gathered pace.  With the 80’s came Derek Hatton and Militant, characterised as the “loony left” which inevitably rubbed off on the city of which he was deputy leader of the council.

The city has now put those years behind it, and in common with Glasgow that featured here earlier in the year, is benefiting from extensive regeneration and investment.

The Albert Dock, once amongst the most advanced in the world, has made virtue of its obsolescence and now comprises Britain’s most extensive range of Grade 1 listed buildings, so with only limited time available as I diverted from my route to Bootle, I made this my objective.APW_9227_8_9

With more time I might have visited Tate Britain, or any of the plethora of museums and galleries here and around the dock, but I was constrained to spend my time outside and found it… well… samey.  Yes those columns beg to be photographed in receding perspective but it didn’t wow me.  Perhaps because my heart had already been captured.  Nearby, stand three bold architectural statements; the Port of Liverpool Building, the Cunard Building, and most famously of all, surmounted by its eponymous avian sculptures, the Royal Liver Building.  Collectively they are known as the Three Graces, and whilst we’ve seen them all before on countless TV shows looking for a shorthand for Liverpool, this doesn’t prepare you for their staggering impact.  Perhaps the day’s bright sunlight gave them a greater sparkle, but they are stunning.  Even the brutal blocks and angles of the new developments that surround them could not detract from them.  Once seen, all others struggle to compete.

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APW_9210-EditPerhaps slightly less graceful, at least when I first encountered them were Lisa and her friend, who were seeking a way for Lisa to mount a nearby equestrian sculpture.  At first I thought there might be some comedy value in a candid shot of their efforts, but the gentleman in me won the day, and I offered to help.  Once Lisa was sure which leg went over the beast we had no trouble and she was aloft in no time.  Naturally I sought recompense by way of a picture, and what a beautiful reward it was.   Hope she got down again!

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What to do when there’s nothing to do!

The Digital Photography School is a website dedicated to providing articles that support the development of skills in the field of digital photography, and whether your interest is in equipment advice and reviews, learning some post production techniques or improving your photography, be it portrait, landscape, street, architectural, pets or more.

I receive an email from them on a regular basis, telling me of new articles and reviews to read, and whilst more often than not it arrives when I don’t have the time to devote to it, even an occasional read can be productive.

Something that caught my eye this time was a piece entitled “What to do when there’s nothing to shoot” a list of eight activities to consider on days when you think there’s nothing worth unpacking the camera for.  If you want the full details I suggest you follow the link above and read the article, but essentially the 8 tips were:

  1. Go to the zoo
  2. Eat a biscuit
  3. Pick up some paperclips
  4. Hit the streets
  5. Go see a friend
  6. Shoot yourself (careful how you interpret this one)
  7. Grab a beer
  8. Practice your technical skills

Now all bar the last of these could be nothing to do with your camera, but of course all of them are.  The reason the article resonated with me was because my recent travelling has meant spending a lot of time in hotel rooms, which is fine when you can chat to someone special, but not so good when they have a prior engagement!  You can go out of course, as my recent night-time pictures in Liverpool and Widnes demonstrate, but when the weather is icy cold that doesn’t seem an attractive option.

So what opportunities for creativity lie in a humble (and in this case very humble) hotel room?

Well with a willing model to hand there would be plenty; Christa Meola’s whole business revolves around the regular use of hotel rooms and usually ones that she hasn’t encountered before so she must work from a cold start (not literally given the amount of flesh in her pictures) to create something beautiful.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to create something beautiful in my room this week, but I thought it was worth a try to capture something more abstract.

I began with the obvious, looking for patterns and leading lines to follow:

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Moving on I tried different degrees of focus to find another option.

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Finally I moved on to post processing to provide something different.  The first is certainly unrecognisable as the cushion of the chair in my room, but I’m quite happy with the second.

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I suppose it all falls under the category of tip number eight, and whilst I won’t be selling any of them to Tate Modern, it was an interesting challenge.