In Haunt

By Emily Oldfield, all photography by Andrew Brooks

Andrew Brooks is a photographer whose images strike awe into the viewer, documenting the ‘forgotten’ side of cityscapes – as well as the splendour of the natural world – in a way that opens eyes and minds, darkness and light.

Manchester At Dusk

Based in Manchester, Andrew is an artist working across mediums, including film and digital artistry as well as his award-winning photography.  He has already worked extensively to document the city and its surroundings – with his ‘Secret Cities’ series of photographs showing alternate angles and areas you may have never seen; from delving deep into underground tunnels to opening up the magnificent interiors of abandoned buildings. This series also draws some interesting parallels between Manchester and the Scottish city of Aberdeen; the dark beauty of stonework, plunging shadows and the sense that the power of the natural world is never too far away.

Just some examples of Andrew’s local work in the ‘Secret Cities: Manchester’ project (created in collaboration with Andy Brydon and previously displayed at URBIS) include interior images of the currently abandoned Hulme Hippodrome and stunning, shadow-soaked photographs of the old canal tunnels that run beneath parts of the city.

Canal Overflow

Opening up completely new angles of place to a public audience, Andrew has ventured inside the Manchester Town Hall Tower itself to photograph the foreboding bell of Great Abel, travelled beneath The Arndale to access hidden passages – and certainly is no stranger to overground and underground adventures.  He has also teamed up with the creator of Skyliner Hayley Flynn to provide photographic insight into a range of places people walk past or over every day; including the iconic Albert Hall whilst it still lay abandoned and the intriguing subterranean space of Trafford Bunker, beneath what was Trafford Town Hall.

Andrew’s images are known for their attention to history and unlocking the layers of narrative that exist in a place, whilst also considering The Sublime – the immeasurable sense of greatness a place can possess. According to Dale Townshend, who is Professor of Gothic Literature at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member The Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies:

'Though its origins go back to Greek antiquity, the Sublime was developed and elaborated upon by British aestheticians of the eighteenth century, and came to imply an aesthetic experience that was characterised by awe, wonder and boundlessness, with an underlying frisson of terror. The Sublime experience, theorists such as Edmund Burke claimed, was generated by natural scenes of vastness and irregularity, but could also be elicited by imposing and august architectural forms, both Classical and Gothic'.

Many other locations are included in Andrew’s work too, as the ‘Secret Cities' series extended to document Aberdeen, presented as part of Spectra – Aberdeen’s Festival of Light. Positioned on Scotland’s North East coast, Aberdeen is a city of Gothic splendour, many buildings crafted from granite stone amidst the dramatic Scottish landscape. Andrew’s photographs include views from the dramatic Aberdeen Town House Tower (pictured below), a unique angle on the dome of the Beach Ballroom, and a closer look at the foundations of The Kirk of St Nicholas; a holy building with aspects dating from as early as the 12th Century.

Town House Tower Aberdeen

Exploring the power of particular places as well as considering the wider landscape, Andrew describes ‘photography, film and digital technology as a prism for seeing and experiencing the world’. A number of photographs also capture pieces of the past, many of which will have a profound emotional connection with viewers. ‘Fieldnotes from Granadaland’ (commissioned by Allied London and with thanks to Hayley Flynn and Katie Popperwell), for example, provides a powerful photographic account of Old Granada Studios before it was regenerated. Images include a ghostly imprint of The Granada Studios signage, an abandoned Coronation Street set and intimate insight into old filming areas.

But what drives Andrew to capture pieces of the past before they are transformed forever – and  why does the darker side of the city draw him in? HAUNT Manchester spoke to Andrew Brooks to find out more…

Hello Andrew. You describe your photography work as archiving ‘forgotten spaces’ – how do you go about selecting these locations, particularly in the busy cityscape?  

“Often finding these places is about chance, putting feelers out… and in time opportunities to access them happen. Through reading and online research I slowly build up a long list of places I’d love to get to in the city. Then every few months a half-chance of getting into one of these buildings arrives which I jump on and try to make happen! I work with writers, cavers, musicians, galleries, companies, city councils and also have lots of people I’m connected to on social media. Through these networks I seem to be able to develop opportunities to access these amazing spaces at a nice pace, usually around five a year. If I’m working on a commissioned Secret Cities project I can visit lots in a short space of time, with people helping to arrange access to many places.” Pictured below: The Trafford Bunker

Trafford Bunker

Why do you find yourself drawn to these places, do you think?

“The places I’m looking for are ones that tell the story of a city and have a kind of beauty that gets ignored in these busy times. Sometimes the city feels presented to us as so glossy and polished, that character and a sense of atmosphere is missing. Getting into these forgotten spaces seems to connect me to a truer version of the city, a version that might be sleeping and hidden away but is still there if you look for it.

“I also think that approaching the history of a place on your own terms - without text panels or guide ropes to control where you stand, what you feel and ultimately what you think - is really important to me. 

“I like the idea that sublime beauty is on our doorstep, that we don’t have to travel to experience something so fascinating. If you look at where you live in the right way, and put a bit of effort into getting into places, you can see such interesting and inspiring buildings.” Pictured below: The Albert Hall, before refurbishment

The Albert Hall

You are based in Manchester and have documented it extensively. How has the darker side of this cityscape inspired you, would you say?

“I’ve lived here for over 20 years, I studied Documentary Photography at Stockport College and stuck around after that. In my early days of getting to know Manchester, I just used to walk with my camera for whole days, wandering the back streets, old parks, canal tracks and many other places that aren't on the tourist list. I think this wandering and looking at the city in detail has continued and developed as I’ve grown more connected with Manchester and have more of a personal history with the city. In that time I’ve seen many sides of the city and had good times and bad times. I hope that my work shows some of this texture, not just the beauty but some of the darkness as well in a way that connects to my experience of living here.”

How did the ‘Secret Cities’ series come about – and why the selection of Manchester and Aberdeen?

“Both of these projects were commissioned exhibitions. The first of these was the Manchester project and was made for URBIS. I think I was chosen to work on this because of the way my photography is not just about capturing a small area of a place, but about showing the whole space in a way that also captures the atmosphere and textures in fine detail. I love to make images that you almost feel you could step into. As these hidden spaces are so hard to access I think that documenting them like this, and giving as clear a sense of the space as possible to a wide audience is really important.

“One of the locations for this project that still sticks with me is the old canal tunnels that run beneath Deansgate. The idea of being a few metres beneath the busy streets of the city, hearing the cars above but being in this strange flooded cavern was really interesting. It felt like I’d slipped into an alternative version of the city.

Salford Junction Canal

“After creating the Manchester project I was commissioned to work on further Secret Cities projects, two in the Netherlands and then the latest one in Aberdeen. 

“Photographing Aberdeen was very interesting, I’d not visited the city before… so learning about a place through these types of locations was fascinating and a real privilege. A location that was really interesting to photograph and explore was the city’s Masonic Temple (pictured below). We had access to the whole building and were shown details like the crypt below ground and the keystone that is a time capsule from over a hundred years ago. I was surprised by the access we got to this building that perhaps twenty years ago would have been much more secretive.”

Masonic Temple

The places in your ‘Secret Cities’ series often strike awe – for example Trafford Bunker, the underground canals. Do you feel that intense emotional response to place has played a part in the photography process?

“I really do, the brief I set myself when making these images is to show how it felt for me to be in these spaces. From the dampness on the bricks and dripping water, to the sense of dread and fear of what might be in the shadows. It’s really important to me to show all of these aspects and also reflect the history in the atmosphere of the image. Visiting bunkers and thinking about why they exist and the sense of paranoia and terror that is associated with them is important to me and hopefully comes through in the images.”

 Why is The Sublime an important feature in your work?

“I’ve always loved art and photography that you connect with emotionally… the type that draws you in and creates strong feelings. Aiming at The Sublime in my work and finding locations that allow me to create pictures that a viewer can have a total connection with, is at the heart of all of my photography and film work. Much of my work is a search for these intense experiences and then working out how to capture them in two dimensional (and sometimes three dimensional) images." Pictured below: The foundations of The Kirk of St Nicholas, Aberdeen

Kirk of St Nicholas

Do you think there is something ‘ghostly’ (in the metaphorical sense) about photography – especially documentary photography – as it keeps a piece of the past continuing into the present? Or do you see photography as a rather different process? 

“There is something very ghostly about photography, particularly in the fast-changing city. In a year so much changes in Manchester that photographs become documents of the past surprisingly quickly. Sometimes mundane images show this the most. When we look at our streets everything looks so unremarkable. We almost don’t see the current cars, fashion or signage because it’s what we are so used to. In five or ten years these straightforward scenes suddenly look like a past era and it’s almost like we see an era clearly for the first time when we are looking back.” Pictured below: Old Granada Studios

Granadaland

Can you tell us about some of your future plans – and how can people stay updated with your work?

“I’m currently working on a new edit of a film called Sightlines which shows a day in the life of Manchester as viewed from the roof and floors of one city centre office tower. This new version will be shown in the Manchester Art Gallery from mid-May and sit next to a Lowry painting that was an inspiration for the film. 

“The film looks at the city at many scales, from people vaping at bus stops, to trams moving through the city, to planes landing at the airport and the wind farms out on the Pennine hills. I wanted to create a project that looks at Manchester’s place in the landscape and how the hills are often seen in the far distance as we move around. The water and minerals from those hills are a large part of why this huge city sits on the plains that they surround. It’s a hard concept to talk about in still photography, so through the moving images and an edit that allows me to tell a loose story over time, I can hopefully share this with an audience. This project is a commission for Bruntwood and was filmed from their Neo building on the edge of China Town.

“You can see lots of my work at https://www.andrewbrooksartist.com with a gallery showing all of my Secret Cities work here.  You can also follow what I’m up to on Twitter and Instagram under @AndrewPBrooks and I’m on Facebook as Andrew Brooks Photography.”

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