Manchester as hyper-real supercity

Susie Stubbs

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Let’s be honest. Manchester is not known for its architectural planning. It has some spectacular individual buildings. It has some of the finest examples of Industrial Revolution architecture anywhere in the world. Castlefield is one of the most beautiful urban parks in Europe. But master-planned to within an inch of its life it is not – Manchester is instead a chaotic jumble of old and new, stunning and shameful. While Manchester remains one of the top tourist destinations in the UK, you come here for what the city does, not what it looks like.

So to meet a photographer whose portfolio contains one beautiful cityscape after another – well, you’d just assume said snapper worked in New York or Barcelona or Paris. But although Andrew Brooks has photographed cities all over the world, most recently in South Asia, he is beguiled by Manchester. He has spent the majority of his career documenting the city (his Hidden Manchester exhibition at Urbis last year was a show-stopper, uncovering as it did the concealed and forgotten tunnels, towers, courtyards and arches that give Manchester its architectural soul). And his latest documentary project is for Corridor Manchester, the public-private body responsible for the redevelopment of the area in and around Oxford Road – a street that has the dubious honour of being the busiest bus route in Europe. ‘I only work in digital, creating composite images built from many exposures and post-production techniques,’ he says. ‘The end result is a slightly hyper-real shot.’ With a background in both documentary and high-end photography, Brooks straddles both worlds – the Urbis exhibition with its foot in the art world; the Oxford Road job ‘somewhere in the middle, using high-end techniques but with a documentary style.’

With as many as 70 shots being used to make a single image, Brooks admits that he spends a huge amount of time scoping out potential shots, negotiating access to roof-tops and vantage points. His recent Asian travels saw him granted access to some incredible locations – the runway at Hong Kong Airport was just one (and given the recent debate around photography in public places, this access is all the more remarkable). ‘I have a strong idea of what I want to do with any given image before I actually shoot it,’ he says. ‘I want to capture how it felt to be in a place – I don’t just want to take a picture of it. When people look at my work I want them to be able to imagine themselves in it. That’s why I don’t tend to have people in my shots. It’s distracting, it doesn’t leave room for your imaginary self to go there.’

For the Corridor project, Brooks has similarly created a series of atmospheric (and mostly people-free) images that sum up this fascinating part of town. Oxford Road is, for example, home to the largest university campus in Europe (thanks to two universities that sit cheek-by-jowl); one of the biggest hospital complexes in the world, and all the research and bio-tech centres that cluster around it; and the profusion of galleries, libraries and theatres that line its route. Oh yes, and all those bloody buses. ‘I’m trying to pull together something solid so that people can understand the area, an image that they can pin their ideas onto. I want to make pictures that are as close to being there as possible.’

It doesn’t appear that Brooks is going to tire of Manchester anytime soon. ‘People help each other here,’ he says. ‘You don’t get lost; there are cool streets. It’s an interesting city to read as you walk around; there’s a fascinating mix of old wealth and new buildings.’ Click through his photos here and you’ll start to understand why we at Creative Tourist are so passionate about the city Andrew Brooks is proud to call home.

View more of Andrew Brooks’ work here. Find out more about Corridor Manchester, and the proposed redevelopment of the Oxford Road area of Manchester. This includes diverting those pesky buses and installing super fast broadband. Over the next 12 months, 1,000 homes and 500 businesses will be directly connected to new fibre optic cables, which will increase broadband speeds to 100 mbps and create an unparalled open access wifi network.

Main image: Hong Kong Airport courtesy Andrew Brooks

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