Celebrating Post War Architecture with photographer James Smith

A Brutal Wilderness copyright James Smith
A Brutal Wilderness copyright James Smith

On the the 5th March 2014 AHA-MK welcomed documentary photographer James Smith to speak at our Forum, below are a few highlights and thinking points from James’ talk.  You can see more of James’ work on his website: http://j-smith.co.uk

With an encyclopaedic knowledge of New Towns and their development, James has completed signature projects in communities such as Corby, Milton Keynes, Hatfield, Luton, and most recently Harlow. Picking out often unnoticed or overlooked architectural detail; James’ photography looks at the cityscape in a brand new way.

James describes himself as a documentary photographer who carries out reconnaissance and research in the urban landscape.  He is particularly interested in the period before regeneration takes place.

By exploring new places from an outsider’s point of view, James feels that he can provide a new perspective on a town or area – being a foreigner in a community or landscape allows an artist to take an objective point of view and to identify stories or aspects that are less obvious, and can be more effective, or moving.

James prefers to shoot on overcast days – providing an anti-subjective viewpoint with neither shadows, nor illumination from sunlight.

James has worked with councils and developers on projects to document change as it happens, to understand communities better and to look at how spaces are designed and used.  These projects have helped communities to come together and aided developers in understanding the social and design challenges of their regeneration projects.

In many cases James has found that his work provides an opportunity for the parties involved in regeneration to take stock and perhaps to realise that although urban landscapes that are deteriorating need to be refurbished, by completely clearing and re-building our heritage is being destroyed.

James’ interest in post-war architecture and design principles has led him to work in new towns and his work clearly shows the different stages of construction and phases of new town buildings.  It is now possible to see several generations of new town in the urban landscape of one area, providing interesting documentation of how these different architectural styles interact.

The image above is from Milton Keynes, and shows the ongoing fight of nature to exist and thrive in urban areas.  With the continuous growth and development planned for Milton Keynes, James’ work suggests that the city might benefit from a process of documentation to collect and collate the changes that are being implemented now.  There is a wealth of information relating to Milton Keynes’ early development, but how much is being captured now?

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The Arts & Heritage Alliance MK (AHA-MK) is a forum of organisations that work together to jointly support the development of arts & heritage in Milton Keynes.