Better-known for his time as CEO of Millennium Point and a leading Birmingham architect who played a key role in Birmingham’s ‘Big City Plan’ long-term investment and regeneration programme, Philip Singleton will soon complete a masters degree at Falmouth University’s renowned Institute of Photography.
Philip is now leading The Pause Project, which explores his relationship with the city of Birmingham and its spaces and places, through artistic photography.
The images capture a reflective and intimate view of Birmingham’s buildings that are in a pause state during regeneration or demolition.
An exhibition – Birmingham Dust – featuring 12 of the buildings photographed as part of the Pause Project will be held at Argentea Gallery in the Jewellery Quarter in June this year.
The images will be hung on concrete tablets, which gives further connection to the subject matter of architecture, construction and the format serving as a vivid memorial to places that might soon be gone.
Among the buildings featured in the exhibition are the Junction Works in Digbeth, the now-demolished Birmingham Conservatoire, The Roundhouse on Vincent Street, The Municipal Bank building on Broad Street, the Christopher Wray Lighting near Millennium Point – currently being preserved as part of a new mixed-used development – and Steelhouse Lane Police Station, which is no longer used by West Midlands Police and now hosts guided tours of its Victorian facilities.
“All these buildings were ripe for change and thus became the primary target for negotiation with owners and agents, to enable me to carry out the shoots,” explained Philip.
“I will often spend up to eight hours in a building to understand its history and purpose and then closely observe its use, often uncovering surprises.
“All 12 of the buildings are within the wider city centre of Birmingham. I have been living here for 28 years now and I am certain that the sheer pace and volume of change in the city exceeds anything I have seen before.
“The project formed when I shot Edgbaston House on the Calthorpe Estate, in late 2016 and again in 2017. I was expecting a series of banal and repetitive spaces over its 20 storeys, but in fact the things left behind were curiously engaging and a real find; both corporate and personal, from food, to tables, to pictures, signs, computers and a suitcase.”
Philip believes Birmingham’s ‘Forward’ motto is often reflected in the city’s approach to architecture with a skyline that is constantly changing as new developments replace old.
“Being an architect has given me an undeniable view of the world – the materiality, the shapes, the forms and meaning of things. This has seeped into my image based work,” said Philip.
“Add to that the fascination with Birmingham – the city that has absorbed two thirds of my life. Its motto provides fertile ground for architects; the liquidating of buildings just one generation old means the shiny new becomes the next wave of excitement. I intervene with my camera into the paused time before the demolition ball or clean-up moves in.
“I have become more reflective; my images indulge that sentiment. Each building earmarked for change or death, however seemingly ordinary, I have discovered, is imbued with a patina of life, even when the people are long gone. There are marks, abandoned things, echoes of life.
“So, the work is about memory – both the physical and the social – of Birmingham. Its prominent buildings like the Conservatoire to the ordinary, like shops in the Jewellery Quarter.
“The work is not some vast vista documenting facades and huge volumes, it is more about the intimate, the detail, the lost moments, the left-over objects.”
Philip’s work has been championed by nationally-respected photographic historian Pete James, who recently passed away, aged 60.
Mr James, Curator of Photography Collections at the Library of Birmingham, died on March 11, 2018. Writing for Philip’s Pause Project in 2017, he said: “Philip’s camera has arrested silent, hidden moments of beauty in spaces once infused with bustling activity life and noise. They capture discrete traces of that former life and the individual and collective memories which now haunt these now empty spaces. They preserve and offer these moments to us as and, in so doing, become part of our collective memory of the city.
“The photographs on display, which represent a small part of a much larger ongoing project reveal a distinct vision informed by Phillip’s background as an architect and his passion for the built history of our city.”
Birmingham Dust, launches at 6pm on June 14 and then runs June 15-28, 2018, Argentea Gallery, 28 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham B3 1RB. For more information visit http://argenteagallery.com/ or www.philipsingleton.art