Earlier this year, my exhibition 'The House of Annie Lennox' moved from London's Victoria and Albert Museum to the Lowry Arts Centre in Salford Quays, Greater Manchester. During the weeks before the opening, I made several trips from London to Manchester, to finalise details of the presentation. The two hour train journey is very relaxing and enjoyable, and shortly before you get into the city, the surrounding landscape suddenly transforms from 50 shades of verdant rolling countryside to solid facades of red bricked Victorian factories, churches, bridges and buildings, intermittently juxtaposed by an audacious variety of glass, concrete and steel constructions, dating from the 60s to the present day.
I'm fascinated by remains of buildings and objects from the past. If it were possible to travel back in time, I'd probably be first in line for the ticket. Of course that's impossible (sigh!) but I've discovered that one way to get closer to this notion is to study old photographs or recorded film. Photography can actually act as a magical portal, through which you can connect to frozen moments of time in a two-dimensional form, albeit in black and white or sepia tone.
In the Lowry Arts Centre bookstore on the ground floor of the building, you can look at books with photographs of the artist (LS Lowry) himself, standing somberly in his old fashioned trench coat and hat, sketch pad in hand, on an anonymous street corner, or on stairs leading up from the cobbled towpath of an old industrial canal, in profile against a background of industrial smoke plumes, rising darkly from a horizon of industrial chimney stacks, reaching up like blackened fingers against an industrial polluted sky. If I use the word 'industrial' once, I'll use it four times!
Lowry's Manchester and Salford were very different from today's version.
Swathes of previous existence have been erased, but the remains of a proliferation of historic buildings are still (miraculously) standing, having survived the cull of the early 70s; in spite of nature's rampant dereliction which often appears to be winning the war against men's grandiose creations.
Decades ago, I passed through Manchester quite often on tour, but touring rarely gave me opportunities to take in the views, stroll down the streets, or smell the roses. I mainly just passed through and glossed over.
Somehow, having the exhibition at the Lowry gave me an opportunity to see things differently, in a more up close and personal way.
I have an iPhone. I mainly use it to send and receive texts and emails, but the function I'm mostly in love with is its built-in camera. I love to point and click wherever I am. As long as my iPhone's in my bag or pocket I can do just that, easily and discreetly. When I've captured the object of my interest, I can either delete it or keep it. And lots of times, I can time-travel back to where I've been and what I've seen in my own existence. It's not just 'seeing' in the normal sense; it's looking deeper. That's what I like to do most of all; I like to look deeper.
So, to cut a longish story just a little bit shorter... I became fascinated with Manchester and Salford, and started taking pictures of what I saw there.
The first picture was taken through net curtains in my hotel room, and after that I knew I had to continue. I got up very early one morning, and went for a drive around the vicinity, capturing things that spoke to me, and from hundreds of images that emerged, I started creating collages on my laptop.
This is where I have the chance to become very quiet, and very deep within myself. I discovered this over four years ago after having back surgery, when I was more or less obliged to lie in a hospital bed for several days.
Rather than resorting to television on the wall, I retreated to photographic images stored in my laptop, where I found myself compelled to cut and paste.
Cut to Glorious Manford Salchester. There is actually no such place in the world, but in the universe of my collage, it becomes quite tangible. The title is a gentle prod at invisible boundaries between two places and their identities. People of Salford can be mildly offended if you lump them in with their Manchurian neighbors, and I have to assume it's probably the same in reverse for the good folks of Manchester; although somehow I doubt it, as it's usually the smaller guy who feels defensive in the need to assert autonomy.
To sum up, my photographs are about the way I see things. Light and shade... banal and mystical... ancient and new. The small details of inconsequence, focused in on and transformed to an 'other worldly' place. The world of Glorious Manford Salchester.