TIB STREET, NORTHERN QUARTER 7.27AM

tib street manchester at dawn

TIB STREET, NORTHERN QUARTER 7.27AM

When I tweeted an iPhone picture after this shoot I wrote “I didn’t end up where I thought I would”. Sometimes I set off with a clear idea in my head of where I want to be, perhaps having already been there previously, but sometimes things don’t appear as I think they will. Streets and views that look inviting in the day can simply not be as I want them to be in the half light of dawn. And conversely, something that presents as drab in daylight can come alive with colour as night clings to the walls and pavements.

I’d remembered walking along Church Street, and noticing the bizarre layers of architectural styles that could be seen back towards the Arndale. And there was the famous Black Dog Ballroom, often the scene of last men standing as they’re finally forced home at 4am. So I’d assumed it would be an easy picture to take. However, in the transition from dark to light, the scene in front of me left me feeling disappointed.

Instinct took me up the steps into the Smithfield Buildings, where the colonnades are more Eastern Bloc than Renaissance. A pool of light held my eye, just as the scent of a sleeping human reached my nostrils. Below me, on the street, a Chinese couple were scooping noodles into their hungry mouths before they set off towards Piccadilly, pulling suitcases behind them.

Suddenly a man appeared from a shadowed corner, humble in his stance, and he asked me what I was photographing, clearly nervous that it had been him and his homeless mate. I assured him that I hadn’t included him in my composition, and offered to show him my picture, an invitation which he declined.

A member of staff arrived to open up the cafe just along from me, and she tried to wake the guy still sleeping. Her tone reminded me of the one used by care staff towards elderly residents. David, the one that had asked me what I was doing, arrived with breakfast from Greggs. His friend, now awake, changed his trousers as discreetly as he could. “Been tough since I got back from Afghanistan” he said, as if I’d asked.

As the dark receded more people were pacing along the streets, pulling small cases behind them. Everyone seemed to be on the move, and on the way to somewhere they didn’t really belong.

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GUN STREET, ANCOATS, MANCHESTER 6.32AM

Gun Street Ancoats at dawn

GUN STREET, ANCOATS 6.32AM

Today the clocks were turned back. Rain lingered like a truculent teenager, smearing the cobbled streets of Ancoats with a Brylcreem sheen. The area is a work in progress. Old buildings, like patients screened off in a hospital ward, are surrounded by scaffolding, as the heart of the world’s first industrial city is given a new life by Manchester’s pacemakers.

Original brickwork and Victorian grandeur have been retained where possible, causing streets which until recently were thoroughfares to be feared, to maintain their essential personality without the latent threat of being mugged. Once the centre of invention it has now become an area of re-invention, with its shiny new facades and dinky lighting.

As I walked I became aware that I was struggling to see a photograph. A pool of light and a refurbished street may offer little more than a visual canape when, actually, it’s a roast dinner that is needed. Only when the clouds cleared, and a sun bled sky brought warm colour to walls and windows, could I finally find pictures that I wanted to see.

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SHERBOURNE STREET, CHEETHAM HILL, 7.22AM

strangeways at dawn manchester

SHERBOURNE STREET, CHEETHAM HILL 7.22AM

I was a still a boy when I first saw Strangeways prison. My mother drove past it, and the strange tower, rising up from amongst the dense walls, haunted me during that night’s sleep. Was this the future of men? Since then it’s inescapable presence, poking into the Manchester sky, has fascinated me.

I’ve decided that Strangeways and Empire Street should form one of the boundaries for my project, and that the best place to get a proper look at the tower, and the world that surrounded it, was from Shelbourne Street. Here the hidden lives of guilty men are framed by the frivolities of ladies fashion, providing yet another one of those schizophrenic moments so often apparent in this city.

Strangeways stood proud in the early dawn, against a slight mist that softened the distant competing towers of Beetham and the Premier Inn. Two prostitutes, their arms folded, huddled together in the chill air, half heartedly imploring passing cars to stop.

I’d arrived at the location in a rush, trying to redeem the mistake of the previous day, when I’d not seen the picture that I really wanted. I fumbled and managed just 2 frames before the lights popped off. The tension was gone and a simple, grey light surrounded the men and women walking briskly to their work. I was done, and set off for home.

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MANGLE STREET, NQ, 7.04AM

mangle street NQ back piccadilly

MANGLE STREET, NORTHERN QUARTER 7.04AM

Back Piccadilly forms the city centre boundary to this current project. It’s a curious street, like a redundant spine, that more or less runs the length of the Northern Quarter. Around its liason with Oldham Street people perform a peculiar dance as they avoid bumping into one another on the narrow pavement, and vans and lorries block it whilst grumpy men unload goods into the bars, supermarkets and shops that face out onto Piccadilly.

Away from this area though, the lane quickly quietens and has the feel of somewhere that hasn’t been touched in a hundred years. Iron fire escapes rise above and, through windows that tempt you to climb higher, Victorian wall tiles can be seen, and the branches of indifferent trees emerge from lonely walls.

I felt watched from the roof tops and sensed that I was expected to disappear under the cloth of a cumbersome plate camera, rather than prepare my digital equipment for use. I touched the walls of an old warehouse and the bricks were cold and damp. A single street lamp at the bottom of Mangle Street, too much in shadow to be affected by the new day, remained lit long after those on the surrounding streets had been extinguished. I framed my picture to include the incongruous blue arm of a cherry picker, parked and ready to work.

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JERSEY STREET, ANCOATS 6.41AM

jersey street ancoats

JERSEY STREET, ANCOATS 6.41AM

The top of Jersey Street is separated from the creators and new residents of the regenerated Ancoats by a small, humped bridge. In front of the estate that looked towards the flourishing city centre skyline, had been placed a Free School. The grey, fenced in Portakabins caused it to look more like a holding centre for refugees than a place of learning for young children. A man in a hi-vis jacket was patrolling the gate as the early staff arrived and slid in through the gate. Caretakers, when I was at school, simply cleaned and repaired and shouted at us when a ball went near a window.

jersey street ancoats manchester dawn

People were on their way to work and they walked that little bit faster when they saw me perched on low bank of grass, slightly above them. To my left was a canal and behind me an Autumn sky, flushed with pink and melancholy. A man was walking his dog on the parkland between me and the water, dressed like he was ready for a games lesson, in trainers and a scruffy tracksuit.

“It’s like the countryside here” I said. He nodded, but only out of politeness, and shouted at his dog.

I turned towards the old Manchester, and the raised ground I was stood on reminded me of an ancient burial mound.

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RUSTICA, TIB STREET, 7.03AM

rustica tib street manchester

RUSTICA, TIB STREET, 7.03AM

The day before had started chaotically, as my alarm didn’t go off, and a non-committal drizzle had doused the weekend warmth in streets that now seemed disjointed. An old fella in a tweed flat cap, walking slowly and unsteadily with a stick, had stood in the middle of the road and loudly denounced a driver going in the wrong direction up a one way street. There’d also been a small altercation with a young lad in a white van, who decided to double the amount of time he parked in front of a building just because he knew I wanted him to move.

Today, however, a balmy temperature returned a sense of summer to the rained on tarmac and the Autumn trees remained still. I set down my camera opposite Rustica, a daytime take-away that opened long before most of the bars and restaurants now filling aspirational bellies, and waited for them to open up.

The pensioner from yesterday came by again, but this time he stopped to tell me that his name was Harry, he was 87 and he’d lived in the area for nearly forty years. He smiled as I listened to him explain that he was due to move out in a week to a bungalow a mile or so up the road.

“Anyway, what are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m photographing the changes around the area” I replied, and looked at me as if I’d told him I was actually a goat.

“Why, are they knocking things down?”

As he spoke the shutters on the cafe went up, 10 minutes late, and the first customer wandered in. It all felt so sedate, almost as if dawn had been put back half an hour.

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VICTORIA STATION, MANCHESTER 6.47AM

victoria station manchester at dawn

VICTORIA STATION, MANCHESTER 6.47AM

Two nights before there had been the Autumn Equinox, when summer ends and the days tip towards winter. The moon had shone like a torch and was perfectly round, as if it had been drawn by an eager to please schoolboy with a compass. This morning, partly covered by cloud, it had the deflated look of an old leather football that had just been clogged towards touch by an uncultured centre half.

Outside Victoria Station the new roof reminded me of a giant tomato cultivation tunnel but, within the concourse, light was spread evenly and softly, allowing the retained original features to live again. For some reason, though, the station buffet, with its dome and delicious Victorian tiles, contained chairs and tables that could have come from a closing down sale at a service station.

After taking the picture I walked up towards Shudehill and settled near the grey multi-storey car park that borders the old buildings of Thomas Street. A workman walked past, pushing an empty wheelbarrow. He stared at me for a few moments, and then said “There’s no kingfisher’s here mate. Are you trying to catch the missus and the boss?”

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