Chad! No! Manchester, 2012

“But it’s just a picture of a wall!” It’s also a picture of ambition moderated by pragmatism, of nostalgia, of seeing how things were, how things are now and how they got there.

New camera, new inspiration. At the beginning of 2012 I had acquired a full frame digital camera. As soon as I looked through the viewfinder I realised what I’d been missing for years – being able to see what I was actually pointing the camera at! My previous crop sensor camera was all right as far as it went, but the larger viewfinder took away much of the guesswork.

I was revisiting locations in the area of Manchester just north of the city centre. The developers were gathering pace, transforming the area by snapping up and gentrifying more and more of the Victorian commercial premises. I was keen to photograph the last stages of the decay before everything got plastered over and repainted.

Layers and the end of the line

One of the features of these old warehouses and mills is the number of layers of modifications visited on the fabric of the buildings over the years. This is what I saw in this picture: a least three, maybe four, generations of brickwork as the building changed to suit whatever business was going on there.

You get the strong feeling that there are no more iterations available for this building. Patching in changes has taken it as far as it can go. The next step is destruction and rebuild – there are clear signs that people have just stopped caring about this particular wall. “No” refers to the end of the line for the structure, not just the parking.

Then there’s the progression of labels. From the No Parking sign to the rather fancier CHAD plate. And just what was CHAD? Community Health Assistant Director? Maybe Chad ran the business and this was his parking space? In any case the local youth had made their mark and got their tag on there too.

I remember being unreasonably pleased to have captured the fine wispy grass growing up through the cracks in the pavement. It was clearly ignoring the injunction not to grow just above it. Or perhaps it was an instruction not to walk on it! Either way the combination of good camera and lens made all the difference to the detail I was able to both see and capture.

Composition grid

Chad. No! A study of brick walls in Manchester
Chad! No! Manchester 2012

The composition was satisfying as well. You can divide the picture into a three by three grid (of sorts). There’s the layer of newer brickwork, the layer of what was presumably the original structure with the different generations of lettering. Then finally there’s the pavement and that grass. It’s split vertically too: CHAD, Arrow, No for example. The gaps between the weeds. All very orderly and contrasting with the otherwise more ad hoc developed building.

The final image

The final image was always going to be monochrome. The colour of the original just had too much variation, and ended up being distracting. I liked the inexorable orderliness of the bricks and the subversion of the graffiti and the undergrowth. It would have been too easy to confuse that with the different shades of red brick

“But it’s just a picture of a wall!” Maybe so, but it’s also a picture of ambition moderated by pragmatism, of nostalgia, of seeing how things were, how things are now and how they got that way. Its rectilinear quality contrasts with the chaos of the layers of time and actions.

So a technically satisfying image with layers of a story to fit in with the other images I was taking at the time – what’s not to like?

Despite my misgivings about talking too much about camera settings and other configuration matters which aren’t too important, these are the bits of information about this picture some folk find useful:

  • Camera: Canon 5Dmkii
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS
  • Focal length: 98mm
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure: 1/100 at f7.1
  • I use Lightroom and NIK software for sharpening and noise reduction.

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