Until yesterday I did not realise that urban decay is a recognized socio-economic term. I thought it was just a turn of phrase. That said, I didn’t know it was the name of a cosmetics manufacturer either (not sure it works – likening your client’s faces to crumbling buildings that have seen better days). According to Wikipedia, so it must be true, urban decay is:
“the process whereby a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude. It may feature deindustrialization, depopulation or changing population, economic restructuring, abandoned buildings, high local unemployment, fragmented families, political disenfranchisement, crime, and a desolate, inhospitable city landscape”
Now my home town hasn’t quite got to this point yet, this is leafy Cheshire after all, but there are certainly areas that fulfil some of the above criteria. Plans for the regeneration of part of Chester’s city centre, the Northgate Development, had originally promised a 2007 end date. Buildings were knocked down, areas were cleared, the theatre and cinema were closed. And then… well, nothing to be honest. The credit crunch/downturn hit and we were left with empty buildings and piles of rubble.
Fresh new plans for the Northgate development are due in front of the city council in May 2011; we wait with baited breath for the outcome. In the meantime an area of the city, which by no means was that attractive to start with, has become even more of a wasteland. I took this picture on Sunday morning, just a few hundred yards from the city’s Victorian town hall, the Roman walls and the Tudor shopping streets. I have no idea how old Kirkton house is, my guess would be Victorian or Edwardian, nor how long it has lain empty. Prior to falling into its current state it was obviously a solicitor’s office. To be honest I came across it by accident; I was taking a picture of the empty art deco Odeon cinema (which may well feature in another blog that I am formulating) when a traffic warden (!) asked me if I was interested in architecture and that was a ‘really good’ old building just down the road, opposite where the bus terminal used to be. This is the heart of where the Northgate development was supposed to be; no doubt Kirkton House is scheduled for demolition once the building work starts again. It stands next door to a 70s tower block, also empty and crumbling, that looks like something out of the BBC series ‘Life on Mars’.
To my eyes, Kirkton house is a lovely building but I think it appeals to me in its current state of disrepair. It feeds in to my love of creaky old houses and ghost stories. I can imagine a team of paranormal investigators, no doubt led by Roddy McDowall or Jane Asher, spending the night there before fleeing in terror. It has an imposing front and the dead ivy adds to its menace. I took quite a few pictures and think it might be fun to go back one night and get some pictures of it in the dark. Since the gate was open, I decided to walk around the side of the building to see if I could find anything else of interest. Which is where I took this picture.
OK it’s only a dumped mattress but given its location, hidden round the back of a large crumbling Victorian house I thought that it cried out to be photographed. It defines seedy. It is quite easy to imagine what it might be doing there.
As I’m a landscape photographer, if I’m any sort of photographer at all, it’s probably a good thing to counterpoint natural beauty with more gritty, realistic subjects. I do live in a city after all. All the above photographs, and yesterday’s green door, and maybe a few to come were taken on a Sunday morning walk 10-20 minutes from my house. In my mind I am forming a rough idea of a series of pictures showing the seamier side of a popular tourist city. Not sure it’s a goer in terms of selling any prints, not that I do a lot of that anyway, but when a city is photographed to death maybe this is the way to go? I know that photographs of Manchester and Liverpool’s industrial heritage sell but these feed into the whole ‘it’s grim up North’ ethos.
My city’s heritage harks back to the Romans and it’s unbroken walls marked it out forever as a tourist city rather than an industrial powerhouse like it’s illustrious neighbours. It’s a very insecure city too. We consider ourselves part of the North West of Coronation Street and Joy Division and Boys From The Black Stuff and Wigan Pier yet we are in Cheshire, home to gentleman dairy farmers. We are also within a stone’s throw of the Welsh borders. My television signal at home veers between BBC Wales and BBC North West literally depending on which way the wind is blowing. It was a Tory stronghold for years (Gyles Brandreth was once our MP), went red during the New Labour years and is now Tory again. It is such political swings that have led to decisions not being made and developments being started and not finished. So like Kirkton house my city awaits its fate. Imposing. Full of history. Living on past glories. And waiting for redevelopment to start.