Practioner Talk – Micheal Collins


Today I attended a lecture by visiting speaker, Michael Collins. He works with medium format cameras as he finds that they allow him to capture very precise detail in his photographs.

Collins is very much interested in accurately representing history and human presence, in a subtle and gentle way. History is often shown with major events and Kings and Queens, however, there is more depth to the history shown in the lives of the ordinary folk. There stories and lives make a vibrant patchwork of life, the unseen history.

Michael explained how he finds interestingness in the slightly mundane and dull. His work reflects this, with his photographs depicting scenes of industrial environments, devoid of physical human presence , yet full of evidence of life , work, industry and people.

The image below demonstrates this perfectly. At first glance it appears to be empty and soul-less , but upon closer inspection you can see the traces of what it once was. Michael took this picture when the Rover factory in Birmingham had been closed down and the manufacturing work had been moved over to China. The factory was in the process of being stripped down by a team of Chinese workers , amidst much hostility from the people who had worked at the factory and had now lost their livelihoods. With this in mind, knowing the backdrop upon which the photograph was captured, it gives the image so much meaning and significance. A loss of purpose, a moment captured in time. the tyre tracks evidence of a once bustling workplace, now abandoned to the elements. The sadness and despair of the workers hangs heavy in the air, but it is important to capture as part of our social history.

Rover. Powertrain, Longbridge. 2006_0

Rover. Powertrain, Longbridge. 2006

I enjoyed looking at his work and found it to have a very calm and tranquil feeling, particular the images that were taken in factories. There is a raw beauty to them, of lives lived, you can imagine the noise and smell of these places as they once were. I found that his work contained within it a sense of sadness, the Nation that was once at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, empty, derelict and decaying. This images impose a sense of loss on the viewer.

Out of all the images that Michael presented to us, the series entitled Brickworks (Stewertby) touched me the most. I spent my 20’s living in Bedford, my Husband and 4 children are all Bedford born and bred. Knowing how important the brickworks were to the surrounding community and the effect that their closing had on people makes them all the more poignant

The medium format camera used to create the images suits the setting perfectly. It lends a sense of scale to the image. The muted colours reflect the clay of the bricks. The mist adding to the sense of sadness. Although the yard is empty there is evidence of people all around. The dilapidated hut , the bricks neatly stacked in uniform piles. There is intrigue and mystery surrounding the images , I find the photographs considered and caring of the place.

Further works from Michael Collins can be found on his website here : http://www.michaelcollinsphotography.com/galleries/birmingham-factories

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