Friday, April 27, 2012

A Nod to the Past, a Turn to the Future

I was last at Swindon College at Regent Circus as a student in 2001.

I last went into the building in, about 2004.

After passing by it thousands of times when open and, with increasing concern in the last few years as it's started to resemble a hulking ruin, today was special.

Today I got see the old college building behind the hoardings.

It's not a pretty sight. You'd be lucky to find a dozen windows that aren't broken in the entire place, much of value has been stripped out, pipework, wiring, etc. Fellow regeneration photographer (not sure if that's a genre, but we're using it on our business cards!) Ed Howell and I took a walk-around with site manager Steve from Wring Group, the contractor given the task by developer Ashfield Land to bring the college down safely

The Principal's parking space.
The first buildings to come down, that have had the asbestos removal works done, will be the workshops at the rear. The main college block building itself is off limits to everyone except the asbestos contractor. Another issue is bats living in the tops of the two main block stairwells, which a special, well, batman comes in to carefully remove! 

In one of the workshops, a pile of sanding and cutting discs await collection for recycling.

6 years of flytipping, squatters remnants and overgrowth has to be cleared too. 

This sign looks vaguely familiar, maybe they were staring at me whilst I was sat in lectures in 2000!

If there was a physical representation of Swindon's historic attitude towards town centre rebuilding, the college building would be it. Quickly outdated, broken, unused and looming large on the skyline.

 Looming large on the skyline, but like the old college building, not for long. 

Update : A greater selection of images are now on Flickr, just click here.

All the equipment, brushes and canvases have gone, but the evidence of the art department lingers on.

Looking into the library, from the rear access road, the windows in the background look out onto Regent Circus.
The workshop on the right will be being demolished next week, for those living on  Edmund Street, the view is about to change, forever.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Derby Pride

Very quickly, one rough and ready picture (okay, three!) of London Underground train building at Bombardier's Derby factory. So much to say about today and the tremendous people at Derby, but that will have to wait.

There's a part 2!
Mind the doors.

This evening I'm off to London Underground's Neasden depot to see one of those new trains from Derby being delivered and accepted.

More pictures of that and from Derby soon.

Anyone got a tape measure?

It's going to be a busy night!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Adventure of the Photographer's Shutter Finger

There was only one choice of book to create a cover for in the Unit 7 FujiFilm competition back in February, Sherlock Holmes!

The first story I ever read was The Adventure of the Speckled Band and was bought a couple of BBC double-cassettes (remember them?) of the radio adaptations, then bought the entire radio collection, and have been hooked ever since. Not long after, I proudly took charge of a box set of the entire canon, in the signature orange.

Re-creating the book jacket design would be challenging in photoshop, but once I had the image that suited the story it was simpler than I thought.

The question was, which story to create an image and jacket for? Think Sherlock Holmes and you immediately jump to that terrifying dog stalking the inhabitants of Baskerville Hall, or that fateful meeting at the Reichenbach Falls. For me, the stories I go back to again and again are those with the core Doyle spirit, the idea of the locked room mysteries and what appears to be a magic trick ("I can see that you're a semi-professional photographer, with a perchance for landscapes, cocktails and have spent some time in Swindon", that type of thing!) but when explained and broken down into it's constituent parts, appears simple. Two stories came back strongly, The Adventure of the Three Students and The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place. These have related themes, what appears to be the committing of a great crime turns out to be a tale of personal anguish more than a tremendous illegality. I won't spoil it for any new readers! 

I shot on a manual SLR on black and white film around Lydiard Park, making use of the frozen lake, lawn, and St Mary's Church. I knew I wanted the headstones in the shot, but not from this low, angled viewpoint. An extended shutter speed and moving the camera at the same time, that'll do nicely!

Building the jacket was straightforward. Making extensive use of the grid in photoshop to get the symmetry exact, the building of the blocks of colour, the lines, placing of the text, logos and silhouettes all took referral back to the original for guidance.

The orange and cream were altered from the version I was working from after research showed that there's not been a fixed set of these tones. With the growth in Penguin-branded items in recent years, a lighter orange has been adopted.

I did not plan on creating a back cover and spine design, but went the whole hog anyway.
The result? I've taken some license in creating a cover for a story that's not been produced in individual book form, but you could call it "an instructive exercise" in whether the stories are strong enough to stand up individually (which they are). I'm pleased with the result, but now find my mind wandering to the other titles, The Five Orange Pips, The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, or maybe the creepiness of The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist?

For reasons of information, the best Sherlock Holmes portrayals are both Mister Jeremy Brett and Mister Clive Merrison (the only actor to have performed the role in every single short story and novel of the great detective).

Saturday, April 7, 2012


I first saw St Pancras Station in August 1998. Early in the morning, beneath a filthy roof sat a train, one train, and little else. They say first impressions count and all I remember was the uneven tarmac on the platform and the fact this vast space was occupied by one Nottingham-bound Midland Mainline service.

 Up until that point the only truly grand stations I'd seen (sparking an interest in architecture) were Newcastle, Bristol Temple Meads and Paddington. Newcastle with it's theatrical location by the Castle Keep and bridges, Bristol with it's curvy 'hello, this is the city Brunel built' confidence and Paddington which was in the midst of a redevelopment with the daring (at the time) idea of putting bars and restaurants (and even the very futuristic check in desks for Heathrow) on the newly glazed Lawn.

I saw the opening of St Pancras online in 2007. That great evening, where the railway put on a show for all of London and the World to see. For the first time in a long time, the railway had recaptured that feeling that got us from the Rocket and Rainhill to TGV and magnetic levitation. That feeling : confidence.

On the two visits I've made to St Pancras since, the building, the operations, the passengers and the staff give off this infectious feeling of confidence. A confluence of a sympathetic, but realistic regeneration, high-end railway infrastructure (high speed commuter, intercity and international services) and the renewed railway ethos of a new public space being for the public, result in this confidence.

I spent a morning photographing at St Pancras in March and saw firsthand all these elements in play. The train shed gives off a great substantiveness, but is light enough to allow an airy atmosphere to reach the lower departures level. The space throughout is well used with international passengers, domestic and underground commuters, but is designed so it never feels cramped or crowded, there's always available space.

I started on the upper level being awed by the Barlow roof, but then got drawn down to departures and to one spot in particular, the entrance to the Underground concourse. After a short while I realised why, an announcement would cut through the gentle hum of the people, proclaiming the arrival of a service from Paris or Brussels and within a few minutes, an army of continental arrivals, business travellers, holidaying families, backpackers, retired couples would march along towards the Underground. Seems I've become a people-watcher!

Much has been said about St Pancras, far better than I could, but this quote from The Independent's travel editor, Simon Calder sums it up, "the world's most wonderful railway station."

Sir John Betjeman would be so very proud.

Great thanks to Nigel Harris, Managing Editor of RAIL Magazine and Ben Ruse, Head of Media at High Speed 1, for their help in this continuing project. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jumping Off A Cliff

A small piece of paper sellotaped to a graffitied sign is not how you'd expect a project involving £50 million to start, but it just did.

Swindon has been late to the game when it came to rebuilding the town centre. The lateness was compounded by the recession, but finally, things are happening. Two schemes, Regent Circus and the Union Square project at Fleming Way will begin within months of each other. 

The old Swindon College site at Regent Circus is possibly a great metaphor for regeneration. Sitting right at the bottom of Eastcott Hill, it marks the border between Old Town and New Town. Back in the 1800s, when these two areas of town warily-eyed each other, distrustful of the new people flooding in. The college building has sat as a buffer between them since the sixties. The established Old Town and the new young upstarts building houses from the railway works closer towards the hill.

The Regent Circus plan will get rid of the wall between Eastcott and the town centre and create a new space for leisure. The sixties buildings will go and the original Victorian college building restored for new use. 

I'm intending to photograph the work from start to finish.

Updates to follow!