ManModSoc: Manchester Modernist Society’s new photography exhibition celebrates the urban fabric of twentieth century Manchester. Eddy Rhead, co-founder of the society, talks about the changing face of the city.
The shape of a city is never permanent, and it is in flux. The only constant is change. Some change is good. We aren’t preservationists but we do worry that the city is changing in a way that is distancing it from lots of people. None of us own the city and yet at the same time we all the own the city. The city centre is in danger of becoming attractive to just a very select group and some of the heart of soul of what makes our city great is being lost. You can’t build culture and, despite the best efforts of some, the best places can’t be built – they evolve, often with little intervention from business and council leaders. There is a feeling our city centre is slowly being taken away from us and handed over to people and institutions that don’t have the best interest of many Mancunians at heart.
We try not to be moaning old bores. We just try and do nice things that people like being involved with. The archive images are interesting from an historical point of view and some are simply beautiful in their own right. Steve’s images are from the present and offer a reflection on change and how cities evolve. There is a sense of nostalgia running through the exhibition but we avoid the “it’s not as good as the good old days” approach.
We are coming to the end of a year-long project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which allowed us to work with a variety of volunteers, some new to the Manchester Modernist Society and some with a long association. We wanted to look beyond the city centre, to include Manchester as a whole. The Arts and Humanities Research Council gave us an opportunity to be part of their Connected Communities festival and we were able to create ManModSoc, a photography exhibition related to these projects. The exhibition is made up of images from Matthew Steele and Angela Connelly’s ongoing Sacred Suburbs project looking at suburban post-war churches.
We did an event earlier in the year that included a talk series and a bus tour of various churches. We hope to have a Sacred Suburbs publication out in the very near future too. There’s also the work of photographer Steve Marland, who looks at the vernacular and the less glamourous side of our built heritage. His project Mooch is a document of his time wandering around some of the overlooked parts of Manchester.
The rest of the exhibition is made up of images from the Manchester Metropolitan University Visual Resources Library. They are from the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on Hulme and the city centre – showing a very different, but still familiar, Manchester.
I remember the slide library (as it was called back then) from when I was a student. Even back then the idea of slides was becoming a bit outdated but images transcend their format. The images held in the collection have a huge value and just because the format they are held on is now almost obsolete doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any worth. John Davis, resources curator, has been crucial to this exhibition. The Hulme images tell an interesting story – they have a certain narrative that we are only now trying to piece together. The photographer clearly had an agenda that we can only guess at but the images are definitely more than just clinical architectural photography. John spent a lot of time cleaning them up and digitising them, and the prints look beautiful. The Visual Resources Library is due to close and obviously this horrifies us. We only hope this exhibition goes some way to exposing what a unique and important archive this is and will make the MMU reconsider destroying it.
The exhibition space was lent to us by architecture firm Hodder+Partners (Steven Hodder is president of Royal Institute of British Architecture). They had a space they were using for storage, and our approach gave them the impetus to clear it out and let us use it. It’s a bright, open space in a lovely spot down just beyond Castlefield Basin. It’s a bit out of town but worth a walk, with canal boats constantly passing the window, and people coming and going from one of the many apartment blocks around there.