A few years ago, I had the idea to make a documentary. It was going to be surrounding music in my hometown of Bradford, UK, and how it has evolved over the years. It was an ambitious project, but I knew what I wanted to say.
As with many big projects however, time got away from me and before I knew it, I was no further than I'd started. I ran into so many obstacles, not only logistically, but also on a people level, that I really struggled to get over. So the whole project had somewhat fallen by the wayside until I could find a solution.
Fast forward to 2020 and now photography has become my primary focus. The flame of the idea had rekindled, but taken a totally different shape to how I'd first imagined it all that time ago. A new photography project was now the order of the day. And it would be a 35mm film project. I wrote it down, and I saw that it was good.
So, what has birthed this grandiose idea? Why is this a story worth telling? What exactly am I doing? Well reader, I'll tell you. Any good story has the what, the who, the why, the when and the where. The idea (or the what) was conceived as a result of reading (and being in) the wonderful series of books by Gary Kavanagh entitled "Bradford's Noise of the Valleys". It's a fascinating insight into a truly unique music scene and I highly recommend you read them. They're thoroughly researched, beautifully detailed and historically, very important.
The more I thought about those books and the story they tell, I thought about how wonderful it would be if I could, in some way, contribute. After mulling it over and a brief conversation with my girlfriend (who, let's face it, gave me the idea), I decided to hell with my documentary for now (I'll pick that up later), here's a great opportunity to dive into a long photography project. That's something I've wanted to do for some time.
This, combined with my love of the work of Jim Marshall, Mick Rock, John Russo and Andy Gotts, gave me a sudden jolt of inspiration to start creating a frankly epic labor of love.
So, that's the what. Now, the who. I'll be researching and gathering everything I can. Posters, tickets, set lists, photographs and stories from all the sources I can find. I want to know the story of the singer from that band who did the thing at that venue once in 75. I want to know how that other band formed, what happened to that venue, what happened to that guy at every gig. My goal is to then track them down, or go to where it once stood or where it happened and photograph it. Bringing the story from then to it's final conclusion, while capturing the stories of the new guys and girls as it unfolds before us, where they came from and why they love what they do.
The why. This is always the tricky one. But, this time it isn't. This one is easy. Bradford has a rich history of grassroots music and I've been a part of it for a lot longer than I care to admit. I know from first hand experience just how much beauty and, in some cases, horror there is in it. But I also know the people in it. Some I've known very well for years, some are only acquaintances to me, but they all form part of this rich tapestry that forms this funny little community, in a city that was once the wool capital of the world.
The second why is, why 35mm film? Why does anyone choose an analogue format these days when we have so much amazing technology at our fingertips? I love shooting thousands of images on a beautiful camera as much as any photographer. In fact, all of my published work to date has been done on digital.
So why use an archaic format such as 35mm film when I have the editing power of adobe and the shooting power of Canons marvelous DSLRs at my disposal? The same reason I prefer recording music to tape, the tube guitar amplifier over a near perfect modelling system or listening to records as opposed to mp3. The tactile quality of analogue still far outweighs anything you can reproduce on a computer.
I love leafing through the artwork and record sleeves when I'm listening to an album, the warm glow of the tubes as they saturate my guitar tone and sifting through the negatives of that role of film to see if I properly executed that one-time opportunity shot. Ever wondered why bands are still, to this day recording to tape when resources allow them? It's not just because it sounds better, it's because when you're presented with those limitations, they shouldn't be treated as burden.
I want to explore those limitations and find out what really makes me a photographer. If the shot is over/under exposed, it's my fault. I can't correct it in lightroom or photoshop. If I get the shot, that's on me. Not the software.
That leads me to the when. I'm under no illusion that I'll have this project completed any time soon. And I know that my house is going to be getting fuller and fuller of boxes, prints, poster tubes and negatives over the next... however long it takes. But when do I start? I already have. I've begun the lengthy process of grabbing what I can so I can scan it, catalog it and get ready to explore the stories behind them. I've even reached out to the hive-mind of social media and the response so far has been overwhelming.
The where is the best part. Right outside my front door! It's my city and I still live here.
This should be one hell of a project. What do I plan to do with it? I don't know yet. Exhibit? Book? Who knows? But it's going to be a lot of fun making that decision.
Stay tuned, stay classy.