This side of the Tees
These pictures portray the Middlesbrough conurbation which has a wealth of architecture thanks to its chronic reinvention. Successive governments have altered the urban fabric in a way that parallels the repeated developments of local industry. These different facets are a treat to the photographer in me.
This side of the Tees consists of fifteen photographs, all taken within the Middlesbrough sprawl. The town only became a town in the course of the nineteenth century, riding the boom in the iron industry, developing the land on the south bank of the Tees. Following this rapid expansion, it acquired a lot of heavy industry; now the iron and steel industry are not as essential as they once were, but the area has gained all manner of other industries, notably chemical. These vast constructions are very much apparent today – always changing, new ones appearing as old ones are torn down.
This leaves a complex landscape, rich in variety and fertile to the photographic eye. Here we will find the clinker of old furnaces broken up to provide a solid core for the Teesdale way; we will find the old yards where the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built taken over by rosebay willow-herb. The tides of the North Sea wash Bran sands twice daily while the Warrenby steel plant works around the clock. The Tees is the essential thoroughfare whereby the goods are shipped in and out. It is always there, as the spine upon which the industry is built.
Attendant to all the factories are the houses for the workers, built up into ever-expanding towns, all now linked into one conurbation running from Stockton to Redcar. For these people, Middlesbrough is their immediate environment. Like its industrial counterpart, the urban landscape is rich and varied. The council has repeatedly sought to upgrade Middlesbrough, tearing down and rebuilding as it went. The campus, administrative buildings and shopping malls now dominate the town centre, but there are isolated remnants of an earlier age, such as Acklam Hall, the only Grade I listed building in the area, and the nineteenth century buildings around the railway station.
Middlesbrough is blessed with this variety. Architecture reveals much about the people who lived on this side of the Tees. They show us what they believed was necessary, what they believed was beautiful and also what they were able to build. In the built environment, all the details are there because someone willed them. The delicate carving of sandstone blocks of the old bank echo the handling of texture on the concrete front of the council buildings. The patient assemblage of bricks contrast with the prefabricated strip of windows on the University tower. My style of photography thrives on contrast – be it of colour, form or meaning – and I am lucky to have found so much in such a small space.
Finally and personally, while taking these pictures, it struck me that very few noticed the beauty around them. This led me to question whether the beauty which I saw, only existed once abstracted from its environment. The camera obliges me to focus on a fraction of the whole in order to show its originality. Alternatively, it could be construed that I was using these snippets to construct a picture and only the picture could be considered beautiful, ie there is in fact no beauty in the environment per se. An additional option crossed my mind: it could simply be that having lived within this world, the residents have become accustomed to it and no longer see its merits. Further, while photographing the council houses in Ormesby, I asked myself: How would the people who live in these temporary homes view their environment? However majestic the public buildings, it is the happiness and well-being of the residents which will colour how they are perceived.
This is my first solo exhibition and I am grateful to Middlesbrough Council for their confidence in me and the sponsorship which has made this exhibition possible. I am also indebted to the Institute of Digital Innovation for providing the exhibition space.
The photographs are available as a limited edition of 5 prints, costing £275 each.