The photo walk we ran on Sunday was a bit of a gamble. The North side of Digbeth, which we did last week, has plenty of obvious landmarks, from Curzon St Station to the canals and the Custard Factory, that even the most novice photographer can get a rewarding photograph of. But the areas of Digbeth to the South of the high street is notably empty of such things. Sure you’ve got the Coach Station, which has a certain charm, and the Paragon Hotel at the top of the hill, but there’s not much else, especially once you get off Bradford Street and into the maze of warehouses.
But this also ties into one of our key things at Photo School – that you can find amazing photos in the most unlikely of environments. You just have to look harder. So taking people around the neglected post-light-industrial streets of an area right next to the bustling city centre was a good way to test that.
All photos taken from the Photo School Flickr Group where you can find many many more.
We started by getting a bit of perspective with a trip up to the top floor of Moat Lane Car Park. It’s not my favourite car park (I have an ongoing passion for its twin on Pershore Street) but it does offer a good range of views. You get the Bullring itself, then the bluebrick railway viaduct cutting across Fazeley Street, the roofs of the wholesale markets and our core road for the day, Bradford Street. And, of course, the lovely weathered concrete of a Brutalist car park roof.
The first port of call proper was the wall of the flower warehouse at the bottom of Cheapside, a nice piece of art that isn’t graffiti in the traditional sense and isn’t really a mural. I like to think it’s pretty unique and, given it’s on a main road through the city, surprisingly unknown. It’s long been a favourite subject of mine so it was nice to share it.
Next we walked up Bradford Street near the coach station where I stopped and pointed to a hole in the hoardings, making it clear that while I was drawing attention to this hole and informing people some nice photographs could be taken on the other side of it, I was in no way endorsing or encouraging anyone to pass through said hole. A few did decide of their own free will to enter this patch of wasteland and capture what I believe is the first exposure of the River Rea in Digbeth and after a period we moved on.
Now came the challenging part. We were heading up the hill towards the Paragon Hotel but needed to take our time. Usually there’d be a stop or two but here there was nothing specific. So I decided to set a challenge. I asked everyone to slow down. Walk incredibly slowly and stop to really look at things that at first glance you wouldn’t normally. And then, when taking a photo, count to 50.
My logic here was that we take photos without a second thought but then spend ages on our computers cropping and editing them. Why not switch that around. Spend the time with the subject itself, trying minute changes to the composition and becoming aware of the background. Examine it, understand it, see the details and the wider context. And then take the photo.
It was rather odd to look at. Lots of photographers standing perfectly still pointing their cameras at nothing in particular. But the results were great. A real sense of capturing something different and seeing the city with new eyes. And you never know, it could be the start of a new strand for Photo School – photography as a meditative practice, anyone?
Finally we eased off with some nice greenery in Highgate Park and moseyed back down the hill to the Spotted Dog. A good day, all in all, born out by this testimonial from Fran which really made my evening:
@peteashton your tours have now made me unable to walk at ignorant speed, looking at detail is slowing me down, but bringing me joy!
— Fran (@Fran_101_) May 21, 2012
Now we’ve done three Digbeth walks and had some really positive feedback we’re definitely going to make this a regular thing, as well as expanding out to other areas of the city. Look for new dates soon and, if you haven’t already, sign up to the newsletter for notification.