A journey through time and space into the World of Libraries

Libraries in Manchester

This bilingual video project is currently in pre-production. I am gathering the information and the photographs and hope to launch the video during October 2018

In this video I will focus on libraries and their many benefits but at the same time we’ll see why libraries are under threat.

The video will be in English embedded with German. It’s part of my mission in 2019 to help and encourage people to learn the German language, which I’ve taught for over 40 years. The video will useful to anyone with an interest in German language, from just a passing interest to high level competency. As part of the format, I highlight the connections between the German-speaking world and the English-speaking world.

Here is a list of the libraries I expect to feature in the video. More may be added:

Chethams Library Manchester
The Portico Library
The John Rylands Library
The Central Library
Cheetham Library
Stockport Carnegie Library
Edgeley Library
Liverpool Central Library
West Derby Carnegie Library
Everton Library (hilltop)
The Gladstone Library
Trinity College Library
Chester Beatty Library
Marsh’s Library
Bolton St Library
Dun Laoghaire DLR Lexicon Library
Aberdeen Sir Duncan Rice Library
The British Library
The London Library
The Library of Birmingham
Gedenkbibliothek Berlin

So here are some bullet points on the good aspects of libraries.

Libraries are free and they’re dedicated to helping you
Most of the time in life we are being persuaded to spend time and money on things that don’t really benefit us. At a library you can spend time on improving yourself and it doesn’t cost anything.

The course includes a cultural visit, for instance to one or more of these libraries

You can connect with past times
Many libraries have a history going back decades even centuries that can be very inspiring if you’re studying or simply looking for interesting places to visit.

Some libraries are exclusive and prestigious – and that can be good too
Some libraries are respected institutions open only to members, like the Portico Library in Manchester. If you are in a position to become a member, you can enjoy many advantages. It’s a further example of the good that libraries do.

Libraries have high ideals and principles
As you will see if you go into the main reading room at Manchester Central library there is an inscription on the ceiling which I’m going to photograph for the video. It celebrates the benefits of learning.

You can get information at libraries that is not available online
Some people say we don’t lead libraries because you can get all the information you need on your computer, tablet or smartphone but that’s not true! Libraries contain a huge amount of information that is not available online. If you researching a subject in depth, the chances are that the information you need is contained in a library somewhere.

Libraries are very good for local information and family history
One of the areas where libraries excel is local history and family history. Most libraries have large collections of books and photographs that you won’t find anywhere else.

Libraries celebrate books and learning
The John Rylands library in Manchester is not just a building that contains books but a place that celebrates books and learning. There are many exhibitions on the subject of old books and manuscripts down the ages. It’s also possible for researchers to gain access to very rare and precious books. It looks like a cathedral but it is not a place of worship. People call a cathedral to books. The Chester Beatty library in Dublin is not really a library, rather a museum about books and has many fascinating exhibitions based on its collections of books from Europe and Asia.

Libraries contain hidden treasure houses what you can discover something totally unique.
Libraries contain so much information a lot of of it is obscure and forgotten but you may well discover something quite unusual and quite astonishing in a library. Some libraries are themselves hidden and obscure. Marsh’s Library in Dublin is not very well-known but it is a tiny treasure house of books and knowledge.

Libraries can be social.
Studying can be a very solitary experience. As a library it feels more social and even though you’re not speaking to the people around you, you are not alone. However sometimes people do make contact with each other at a library. Some couples have even met that way so isnt’ that another reason for visiting one!

Libraries are the backbone of universities.
If you study at a university you will spend a lot of time in the library. Every university has one. Some are even open 24 hours a day for students.

Libraries can inspire children.
When I was a child I went to our local library in Edgeley, Stockport and I can remember feeling the excitement of taking books off the shelf and discovering new things. I loved the smell of the books, taking and flicking through the pages. My favourites were on astronomy, the moon landings and I remember borrowing a black and yellow book named  ‘Codes and ciphers’. My dad like to borrow westerns from our local library and probably read their entire collection of them.

A library provides a sanctuary from the modern world
In our noisy hectic modern day life, full of noise, it can be calming to go into a quiet space and just read. It’s almost like a place of worship. At the Gladstone Library reading room you will experience the true meaning of silence!

The Gladstone Library

Old bricks and mortar have power.
Many libraries have a long tradition, and simply going into these buildings will inspire you and will change your perspective on things. At Chetham’s library in Manchester you can sit in the exact spot where Friedrich Engels wrote books on the working classes which would go on to change the course of the 20th century.

Libraries are symbols of philanthropy.
Many libraries are the legacy of philanthropists, many of them wealthy individuals who decided to spend their money on libraries in order to help their community. John Rylands was one example and so was Andrew Carniegie. Thanks to his generosity hundreds of Carnegie libraries were built across the United States, Britain and Ireland and many of them are still in use today. I’ll be looking at some examples of Carnegie Libraries including rathmines library in Dublin, Didsbury Withington and and Chorlton Libraries in Manchester, and in Liverpool Toxteth and West Derby. There are hundreds more up and down the country.

Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen

Modern-day libraries are striking pieces of architecture.
Some of my favourite modern libraries are the library of Birmingham, the Sir Duncan Rice Library in Aberdeen and Liverpool Central Library which has a futuristic modern extension. In the video I’ll be looking especially at the Sir Duncan Rice library as well as three very interesting post-war libraries in Berlin.

Libraries offer lots of services and benefits not just books.
Today libraries have diversified what they offer: You can surf the Internet, get training, apply for a job gain new skills and qualifications, have things printed or take one to one tuition.

Libraries are under threat.
But despite all that they do and the benefits they offer, libraries are under threat in many parts of the UK. Due to the austerity policies of central government, local authorities are having to close libraries because of budget cuts. This is true in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and many other places around Britain.

Everton Library inscription

Everton Library, Liverpool

While millions  are being spent on new office and residential developments, I think it’s a scandal that beautiful old buildings such as Everton Library are standing empty and neglected. A friends group are doing what they can to save the building, but funding and support are needed. Surely it should be possible for even small percentage of the millions spent on these developments to help restore libraries. The closure of libraries reduces peoples opportunities and works exactly against what Andrew Carnegie, William Gladstone and others were trying to achieve. I’m sure they would be horrified if they could see what has happened to some libraries in recent years.

Libraries are being brought back to life.
But there are some examples of regeneration and renewal. In West Derby, Liverpool, Heritage lottery funding has been secured for the renovation of a unique and magnificent library originally funded by Andrew Carnegie. It will reopen as a centre providing services for the local community.

Please visit a library.
Many people take libraries are granted. Some people have never set foot inside one. I hope after watching this some people will make more use of libraries and and perhaps go and visit some of the libraries I’ve highlighted here. Do libraries have a future? Yes of course they do. And my closing words are: Long live libraries!

Currently in pre-production. Release date: 2020

The German influence in Manchester

Manchester, a city in North West England – a British city with international and European influences, a city where migration has played a key role.

The German influence in Manchester is significant but often hidden. In this video, I look for the traces of German language and culture and some of the people from the German speaking countries who helped to make Manchester what it is today.

The name Albert is famous all over the UK. Streets, buildings and monuments are named after him. But how many people know where he came from?

Prinz Albert von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, to give him his correct title, was born in 1819. In English we say Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg and Gotha.

He married Queen Victoria and became Prince Consort. Sadly he died in 1861 at the age of 42. His birthplace, Schloss Rosenau, now in Bavaria near the former East German border, is open to the public and I intend to visit.

Round the corner – um die Ecke – from Albert Square you’ll find Alberts Schloss – a self-proclaimed palace of Bavarian and Bohemian-inspired food and drink. It’s on the ground floor of the Albert Hall on Peter Street.

Opposite Alberts Schloss is the Free Trade Hall, former home of the Hallé Orchestra founded by Sir Charles Hallé. Karl Halle was born in the town of Hagen, now in the federal state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. He came to England and changed his name to Hallé with an accent on the letter ‘e’ so people wouldn’t call him Mr ‘Hall’.

In 1858 he founded the Hallé Orchestra – Im Jahre 1858 gründete er das Hallé Orchester – and brought many German musicians over from Germany. He had a distinguished career. His gravestone is in Weaste Cemetery, Salford.

Friedrich Engels was born in Barmen, Wuppertal in 1820. He came to Manchester to work in the family textile business. He studied the English working class and wrote ‘die Lage der Arbeitenden Klasse in England’ – ‘The condition of the working class in England’. In 2017 a statue of Friedrich Engels was brought from Ukraine to Manchester. It stands in front of Manchester’s HOME arts centre.

In the 19th century German-speaking immigrants came to Manchester. Many went on to generate huge wealth and helped to make Manchester the city it is today. Hans Renold wurde 1852 in Aarau geboren – Hans Renold was born in 1852 in Aarau, west of Zürich in the German-speaking part of Switzerland He came to Manchester and founded Renold Chain. The Renold Building in Manchester University is named after his son Sir Charles Renold. Renold is a worldwide company and its head office is near Manchester Airport.

Siemens is a German company that is a major player in the UK. You’ll find the Siemens name in many places, such as on the doors of these trains.

Simon is a name familiar to people from Manchester. Henry Simon and Simon Carves are prominent local companies. In Wythenshawe you’ll find Simonsway and in Manchester city centre, Shena Simon Campus of the Manchester College. Where does the name come from? It doesn’t sound very German. Gustav Heinrich Victor Amandus Simon wurde 1835 geboren – He was born in 1835 in the Prussian town of Brieg, now Brzeg in Poland. He moved to Manchester, changed his name to Henry Simon and founded Simon Carves and Simon Engineering.

Henry Simon revolutionierte die britische Mehlindustrie – He revolutionised the British flour industry. His son Ernest Simon, 1st Baron Simon of Wythenshawe was a politician and former Lord Mayor of Manchester. His wife Lady Simon was a politician, feminist and educationalist.

He bought Wythenshawe Hall and donated it to the city in 1926. On the estate a new town was built, named Wythenshawe. With its wide roads and yellow trams it looks like Germany – es sieht aus wie in Deutschland.

In England we don’t explain our street names. I think the Simonsway sign should have information about Ernest Simon so I made a version in Photoshop.

Only a short distance away in West Didsbury are Marie Louise Gardens, given to the city by Mrs Silkenstadt, the widow of a wealthy German merchant, in memory of their daughter.

Die Gardens haben eine besondere Ambiente – the gardens have a special atmosphere, like other parts of West Didsbury. Many German musicians, industrialists and scientists lived here, the name Palatine Road recalls Rhineland-Pfalz, but it’s so called because it links the two palatinates of Lancashire and Cheshire across the river Mersey

The River Irwell has a Germanic name. In German ‘irre’ means ‘crazy’, or meandering. ’Welle’ means wave or water so the ‘Irre Welle’ the ‘crazy wave’ might be the origin of Irwell, though it’s not certain. Anglo-Saxon migrants brought their Germanic language to England from around the 5th century onwards and it eventually became the language I’m speaking now, English.

Die Spuren der deutschen – the traces of German people – can be seen around the conurbation. There is a large German community living in the Manchester area today and some of them attend the Martin-Luther-Kirche in Stretford.

In Stockport there is an intriguing sign on a row of cottages on the A6. Germans buildings. Woher kommt der Name? – Where does the name come from? I would love to know.

In the Edgeley district of Stockport where I grew up, there are streets named after European capitals including Berlin and Vienna. As a child I loved these street names, Berliner Straße und Wiener Straße.

In central Manchester there is an area called Brunswick – the anglicised name for the German city of Braunschweig in North Germany. Brunswick Street runs from Ardwick to Manchester University where it was turned into a park.

Woher kommt der Name? Where does the name come from? Caroline of Brunswick was Queen Caroline, Königin von Großbritannien, Irland und Hannover von 1820 bis 1821. She was Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and Hanover from 1820 to 1821. She has a remarkable story I intend to return to.

On Brunswick Street, now Brunswick Park on the Manchester University campus there is the Simon building, named after Henry Simon and the Schuster Building, named after Arthur Schuster, ein Physiker deutscher Abstammung – a physicist of German origin. He was born in Frankfurt in 1851 and became professor of Applied Physics at Manchester University.

Another German physicist was Hans Geiger. Er wurde 1882 in Neustadt an der Haardt geboren – he was born in Neustadt an der Haardt in 1882. He worked with Ernest Rutherford and gave his name to the Geiger Counter. He is not to be confused with the Austrian Kurt Geiger who founded the shop of the same name in London in 1963. There’s a branch in Manchester.

Other German-sounding high street names are Deichmann – der größte Schuhhändler in Europa – the biggest shoe retailer in Europe, founded by Heinrich Deichmann and based in Essen. schuh is a British company founded in 1981 in Scotland. They chose the German spelling for the name of their store.

Remember when you shop at Spar, they are telling you to save. Spar was founded in the Netherlands and the word spar in Dutch and in German means ‘save’.

Not far from Piccadilly Station is Elbe Street – Elbestraße, next to Raven Street – Raabestraße. The street is named after the wide magnificent river Elbe, which flows through Dresden and Hamburg. Elbe Street is neither wide nor magnificent, more Elbegasse than Elbestraße. The origin of the name is a mystery I would like to uncover.

Radium Street in Ancoats was originally called German Street – aber der Name wurde geändert – the name was changed. At the end of the First World War, many references to Germany were erased. The Royal Family changed their name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor. Rutherford experimented with Radium at Manchester University and so German Street became Radium Street. I think the name German Street should be revived.

Not far away is Dantzic Street, named after the former German city of Danzig, now Gdansk in Poland. The spelling has been anglicised to give the correct pronunciation. The name probably arose from Manchester’s trading links with the Baltic area. I would love to know who chose the name and why.

Der deutsche Einfluss in Manchester ist kaum sichtbar, oft wird er sogar verschwiegen – the German influence in Manchester is mostly invisible and is often hidden, not spoken about.

Dantzic Street crosses Hanover Street. Das Haus Hannover produced five of Britain’s monarchs, from George the 1st to Queen Victoria.

Am Ende der Hannoverstraße – at the end of Hanover Street is Victoria Station where you’ll find a large nineteenth century map of the Lancashire and Yorkshire railway. In the far top right are the names of German cities across the North Sea – once called the German Ocean.

Stettin – now Szczecin in Poland, Hamburg and Bremen. In those days you could travel by train to Hull and by ship direct to Germany. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries many Jewish people came from Germany and central Europe to Manchester via this route.

They brought their customs, German-sounding names and Yiddish language, which is closely related to German. You can find out more about Jewish-German heritage at the Manchester Jewish Museum.

And at Manchester’s other station, Piccadilly, there are multilingual signs – The one in German says: Willkommen bei Metrolink – welcome to Metrolink. It continues: Fahrkarten sind nicht in der Bahn erhältlich – tickets are not available in the tram – Bitte kaufen Sie Ihre Fahrkarte auf dem Bahnsteig. Please buy your ticket on the platform. Vielen Dank. From here it’s just a short tram ride to the Christmas markets – die Weihnachtsmärkte – held in November and Dezember.

Auf den Weihnachtsmärkten kann man Essen und Trinken aus Deutschland genießen – at the Christmas Markets you can enjoy food and drink from Germany. You can try Bratwust, fried sausage, Bockwurst boiled sausage, deutsches Bier und vielleicht Bratkartoffeln – maybe fried potatoes. The prices are higher than in Germany but you can sample German culture and cuisine right in the heart of Manchester!

There’s plenty of Weihnachtsstimmung – Christmas atmosphere. And did you know the wooden tower with a rotor at the top is called a Weihnachtspyramide, a Christmas pyramid. The Christmas Markets are on St Peters Square and Albert Square, where we began.

And so to the Zusammenfassung…

Der deutsche Einfluss in Manchester ist bedeutend. Im 19. Jahrhundert kamen deutschsprachige Einwanderer nach Manchester. Der Ingenieur Henry Simon revolutionierte die britische Mehlindustrie. Der Musiker Charles Hallé gründete das Hallé Orchester. Friedrich Engels studierte die englische Arbeiterklasse. Es gibt zwar den Albert Square, die Dantzic Street und die Brunswick Street, aber der deutsche Einfluss in Manchester ist kaum sichtbar, oft wird er sogar verschwiegen. Auf den Weihnachtsmärkten kann man Essen und Trinken aus Deutschland genießen.

The German influence in Manchester is significant. In the 19th century German-speaking immigrants came to Manchester. The engineer Henry Simon revolutionised the British flour industry. The musician Charles Hallé founded the Hallé Orchestra. Friedrich Engels studied the English working class. There is Albert Square, Dantzic Street and Brunswick Street, but the German influence is hardly visible. It’s often hidden, not spoken about. At the Christmas markets you can enjoy food and drink from Germany.

If you’re interested in learning German, go to aidan.co.uk/german

Vielen Dank fürs Zuschauen und auf Wiedersehen in Manchester.

Photos of Edgeley and Cheadle Heath, Stockport from my portfolio

On this page I present photographs of Edgeley and Cheadle Heath from my portfolio of photographs. I have a special interest in the area as this is where I grew up as a child. Click on the images to view the pictures at larger size, with captions.
I grew up in the neighbouring suburbs of Cheadle Heath and Edgeley in Stockport, just south of Manchester.

I lived on Edgeley Road Stockport and went to Our Lady’s primary school, Edgeley.

As a small child, I played in Alexandra Park with its bowling greens – some now fenced off, its pavilion, children’s playground and woods.

Sykes reservoirs, to the south of Alexandra Park are one of the most striking features of the area. They belonged to Sykes Bleach works, which was later closed and demolished. The reservoirs were then opened for public use.

They are overlooked by rows of terraced houses. There are footpaths around and between these small stretches of water, which at various times of the year are populated by birds.

On the south side of the reservoirs are residential streets with interesting names – Vienna Road, Berlin Road, Stockholm Road and Petersburg Road. As a child I never imagined I would eventually live in Berlin.

Then, as today, Edgeley seems a long way from Berlin. Planes to and from Berlin and other destinations fly directly above Edgeley on their way to Manchester Airport.

The area has a quiet nostalgia about it with streetscapes that have not changed much since the 19th century.

Unlike Cheadle, Chorlton or Didsbury, Edgeley is not regarded as a fashionable or sought after place to live, For some, it’s a just stepping stone onto the property ladder, as there are usually inexpensive terraced houses for sale.

The photos I present here are taken over many years. When taking the photo I am often trying to recapture my childhood. The grainy view over Cheadle Heath is what I saw as I walked home from school. The trees and footpaths of Alexandra Park are mostly the same as they were when I was a child.

As for the reservoirs, I could only look at them through the fence, but I imagined them to be a remote coastline or lake in some far off country, maybe the United States, where I also lived.

A few years ago I was inspired to make a short film drama set in Edgeley. It is available to view by invitation.

All photos are copyright Aidan O’Rourke. Some of them may be suitable for licencing or as prints. Please contact to order.

Portfolio of sketches by Aidan O’Rourke – Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester, Salzburg, Berlin and other locations

In this post I present my portfolio of illustrations, done in various locations and at various times.

I was good at drawing as a child and enjoyed art at primary school. In fact I won an art competition two years running.

The first was a poster for an anti-crime campaign by the police. I designed a poster with a sports car and the slogan ‘Flashy or not, lock it!’.

I won a Kodak Brownie camera, which I remember picking up as a very excited 8 year old from the police station in Stockport.

The second year I did a drawing of Tom Thumb standing on a giant hand. For that I won a Kodak Instamatic camera, which I also collected from the duty desk at the police station.

Both works were exhibited at Stockport Art Gallery.

Unfortunately, I don’t have these pictures today.

At grammar school I wasn’t able to study Art due to a timetable clash with Music. I drew from time to time and finally started to experiment with photography more seriously at university in Dublin. I turned to photography as I had grown impatient when doing drawings and found it difficult to draw faces.

For me, photography and art are complimentary. I’ve done mostly photography but occasionally, when I’m in the mood, I’ve done drawings.

I attend life drawing classes, but drawing the human figure is difficult. The face is even more difficult. But with sketches of buildings, it doesn’t seem to matter if the proportions are not quite accurate. My style is sketchy and scribbly but it seems to work.

When I do quick drawings, the results are often good. People seem to rate art higher than photography due to the talent and skill that goes into a drawing or painting, although photography also requires lots of talent and skill.

I prefer drawing to painting and I especially like to do line drawings.

I’m inspired by art and often go to art galleries such as the Walker in Liverpool, Manchester Art Gallery and the Tate Britain in London.

I love Japanese woodblock ukuyo-e prints by artists including Hiroshige (1797-1858) , Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utamaro (1753-1806).

I’m very interested in fashion illustration from around 1900s to the 1920s, which was actually quite Japanese-influenced.

I love the illustrations of Georges Barbier (1882-1932), the Russian emigré fashion illustrator Erté (1892-1990) and the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), all three part of the Art Deco movement.

David Hockney’s (b. 1937) line drawings are fantastic and some are quite risqué!

Talking of risqué, Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) is another artist I like.

I really appreciate the illustrations of Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) who designed that famous album cover for Duran Duran.

The drawings of Swedish artist Carl Larsson (1853-1919) are amazing.

I have lots of ideas, which I intend to explore and I’ll share my work my on Facebook and social media.

Many thanks to my friends on Facebook for their positive feedback and encouragement.

How I chose the winners in the Sale Festival 2019 photo competition

SalePS-TheLivingCity-J608 What goes through the mind of a photo competition judge when he or she is choosing which photos to select? Are there any tips or guidelines you can follow if you’re submitting photos? Is it just a matter of personal taste or are the best photos always selected?

In June 2019 I was very honoured to be asked to judge a photography competition organised by Sale Photographic Society, part of Sale Festival 2019. Previous judges included BBC personalities Phil Trow, the late Dianne Oxberry and Eamonn O’Neill, Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester. Gerry Yeung, also a Deputy Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, has judged the competition too.


The first thing I needed to do, one week before the awards ceremony, was to go to the venue, Waterside Arts Centre in Sale town centre, 20 minutes by tram from Manchester city centre, and select the photos. The prize-giving event took place on Friday 7 June, 2019. I was to talk about the photos, giving the reasons why I chose them, and meet the winners.

They always say it’s difficult to choose from competition entries. There’s some truth in that, but at the same time, some photos stand out more than others.

But before starting to select, there is one very important factor that you always have to keep in mind as a judge, and that’s the brief, and for this competition, the title was: “The living city”

I therefore decided that, for images to fulfil the brief, they would have to show life, human or otherwise, set against the backdrop of the city. I wanted to see both people – or maybe not people, doing things, engaging in some activity, and also I wanted to see the city in which they were located.

Just on this principle alone I was able to rule out many images. There was nothing wrong with them, many were excellent and I might have taken them myself, but they didn’t answer the challenge. For instance some were cityscapes with no people visible. Others depicted people but the city wasn’t visible.

Immediately one photo jumped out at me. That was the one I awarded the first prize. It’s this image, which, at first, I couldn’t make out. What was it? Some kind of abstract pattern with circles and rectangles? A firework display? And what’s that red blob at the bottom?

Quickly I recognised the subject – it was Manchester’s Albert Square with the Christmas Markets. The red blob was Father Christmas. The photographer had photographed the square from the clock tower of Manchester town hall after dark. Chatting to him after the event he told me he had deliberately booked the last clock tower tour so that he could take this photograph.

This is a good example of how the best images often result from good planning so that you can be in the right place at the right time. The image is well composed and the brightness is just right. The people thronging the square provide an abundance of visible life. They almost look like tiny insects. We can see some of the buildings on the opposite side of the square, which gives us a sense of the city. It is a very good photograph and a great example of low light photography.

OK, let’s continue looking at the winning photos, now moving to number two (senior category), taken in Bangkok. As soon as I saw this image, I felt that it deserved to win a prize. That’s because it’s a very high quality image, well composed and executed. It also fulfils the brief very well. The swarm of motorbikes moving down and to the left provides life and movement. The flyover above also gives a great sense of diagonal movement. Diagonals of course tend to give a dynamic effect while verticals and horizontals have a more static effect.

As I looked more closely I began to find interesting details – like the bus numbers and the indecipherable Thai language destinations. On the left is an elephant and there are more details hidden in the image. And the backdrop is a typical Asian cityscape of tall buildings. A great image.


I awarded third prize to this photo of the Bridgewater Canal in Sale, not far from the exhibition venue. Various things struck me about this photograph. First, it is in portrait orientation. I would probably have taken it landscape. The main emphasis is in the middle of the photograph, the people – and one dog – walking along the canal, with one person visible on the right watching them.

What’s interesting is that the point of focus is under the tree. The people in the distance are left out of focus. This gives a painterly effect, similar to reminiscent of 19th century painter Seurat, who used the pointillist style. Typically he painted groups of people on the banks of the Seine having a picnic. Here the people are are walking by the canal.

I wondered aloud whether the focus on an empty spot under the tree was deliberate. The photographer told me after the award ceremony that it was. Focusing on an empty spot made me think that perhaps the subject is invisible, they are not there, but still present in some way.

The next image was the junior entry. What I liked about this photograph of the bee painting in Stevenson Square Manchester, is that the photographer took it at an angle. I’ve often photographed these paintings – which are part of an arts scheme and are always painted over after a period of time.

I generally photograph them straight on, excluding the background and trying not to crop the painting. But here, the photographer broke some rules. She took it at an angle, cropped part of the painting and also included some details you wouldn’t consider photogenic – some scaffolding and a couple of façades. But these details are interesting and they place the subject in its context.

The bee symbolises Manchester, its industry and the hard working character of its people, so the picture exactly fulfils the brief, whilst disobeying many so-called ‘rules’ of composition. As I often say it’s important to know the rules – or more exactly, guidelines – but they are there to be broken.

After the prize giving, the photographer told me she took it on a school trip and it was taken spontaneously. She told me she had just received her GCSE photography results and received an A*. I’m always very keen to give encourangement and support to young photographers,. I hope she will take her photography further.

In addition to these four prize winners there were four images selected for special recommendation.

This one of guys doing parkour stood out, partly because of the photographer’s excellent timing. Using a very fast shutter speed, they managed to catch the guy jumping at just the right moment – le moment juste – as I often like to say. Another thing I liked was that a woman in the background was photographing the performance on a mobile phone. The setting is the former UMIST campus, now Manchester University.


I liked the photograph of four figures – dog, human, human, dog – walking through a park. It’s actually Longford Park, not far from Sale. The vista reminds me of 19th century French painters such as Corot.

As I mentioned in my presentation, I often find inspiration for photography by going to art galleries and looking at paintings. Every photographer should do this, as you can learn so much about composition and lighting.

I liked the fact that the right hand figure – the small dog – was off the footpath. All four expressed a sense of gentle movement away from the viewpoint. The lines of perspective are striking. The splash of colour from the hats, scarf and boots are also pleasing.


I was happy to be able to include in my selection a very impactful black and white image. Two people walk across the tracks at the top of Mosley Street in Manchester city centre. The sun is coming from behind and casts shadows on the ground.

The figures and their shadows form a V-shape that gives a pleasing composition. Again, we see the skill of the photographer in choosing ‘le moment juste’ – the right moment to press the shutter, capturing the movement at just the right point. Further along the street, another person crosses in the opposite direction and they are placed between the two figures in the foreground.

In the distance are the new residential towers under construction south of the city centre, so this image is up to date and topical. The person on the right is looking at a mobile phone. This image captures a very familiar subject and location in a new and visually captivating way.


This photograph of a man sitting on a canal boat, with Manchester’s Castlefield basin and bridges in the background. I felt that this image also illustrated life, though in a more restful state – the man is reading Canal Boat magazine. The saddle of a bike is also visible as well as the usual paraphernalia of boats, including ropes, with a glimpse of the interior of the cabin.

On the outside we can see people, cyclists and walkers who have just crossed the bridge. Maybe a tram or train crossing one of the bridges would have been nice but it’s not necessary. That was the scene when the photographer pressed the shutter. I don’t like the phrase ‘should have had’ or ‘should have been’. I once heard a picture was rejected because the door of beach hut ‘should have been’ a particular colour.

I like the composition – the photographer has placed the right hand side of the boat parallel with the edge of the image, leaving a vertical strip of water on the right. It highlights an important and often overlooked aspect of life in Manchester: that some people live on boats or at least they are visiting from other parts of the country by canal boat.

All in all, judging the competition was a very interesting experience and I enjoyed explaining my reasons to the people at the awards event, alongside the Mayor of Trafford and members of Sale Photographic Society.

I was happy to see the photographers receive their prizes. The junior entrant won £50.


I have to say the framed photos looked great on the display board. They will remain there during June 2019.

Chris Boyes
Manchester Christmas Markets
Winner Senior Competition
Cheque for £100

Roy Grindrod
Bangkok traffic
Second Senior Competition
Cheque for £50

Tom Chadwick
Third Senior Section
Cheque for £25

Erin Kelly
Bee in the City
Winner Junior Section
Cheque for £50

and the Commended authors were:

Andy Carpenter
Relaxing In The City

Lesley Heptinstall
Crossing The Tracks

Therese Lee
Parkour Training in Manchester

Aamir Sabzwari
Dog Walker Longford Park

So finally: some advice for people entering a photography competition, which I’ll formlate as questions:

  1. Have I fulfilled the brief? Have I thought carefully about the title and tried to respond to the challenge it sets?
  2. Have I depicted the subject in a new and unique way that few other photographers might have chosen?
  3. Is the picture technically competent, in focus where you want it to be in focus, with good image and print quality
  4. Does your photo look like it is the kind of picture that deserves to win a prize? Be honest with yourself here!

And one last note: If your photo wasn’t chosen for a prize, it doesn’t mean it is without merit! Photography judging is still partly a subjective thing. Some competitions are judged by several people, but as John Earnshaw of Sale PS remarked, the cream still has a tendency to rise to the top.

Video: 7 reasons to use ‘analogue’ photography – Editorial style video presented in two languages

In 2018 I made a video entitled ‘Is it time to go back to film?”

In 2019 I decided to do a new version of the video using my new bilingual format, presented in English and German. The ratio is roughly 90% English and 10% German. This is part of my Campaign for Languages initiative. I want to promote language learning and incorporate foreign languages into my videos so that a wide range of people get to see them and experience them. The video is fully accessible to English speakers. 

So here is the exact wording of the voiceover. All photos are by me, Aidan O’Rourke and were captured on film from around 1980 to the present.

In this video we look at Seven reasons to try analog photography and as part of my campaign for languages the headings are in German

Reason number one,
Film has a particular ‘look’.
Film hat einen besonderen ‘Look’

I first became interested in photography in my final year at TCD. I wanted the best picture quality, so I used Kodachrome because of its rich, saturated colours.

The positive image is captured within the emulsion of the transparency – das Diapositiv. There’s no print, you needed a viewer or projector to view them. But in the digital age, a scanner – ein Scanner – or even a smartphone – ein Smartphone – can be used to import them into the digital medium.

With a film camera, the depth of field – die Tiefenschärfe – is fantastic giving a background that’s nicely out of focus.

I continued my photographic explorations in New York. I taught myself photography from the book ‘The Complete Photographer’ by Andreas Feininger, (1906-1999) his father was the German-American artist Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956).

My first long exposure photo – meine erste Langzeitbelichtung – was of 9th Avenue, taken on the Fujica camera I bought in New York.

My first long exposure photograph, taken using my first roll of Kodachrome 25 film

Number two

Film photography can make you into a better photographer.
Filmfotografie kann dich zu einem besseren Fotografen machen.

I continued taking photogaphs on visits to Berlin, east and West. When you use a film camera you have to be patient and selective. It forces you to think carefully before you press the shutter – den Auslöser drücken.

In England I photographed my home region of north west England and wanted an element of nostalgia. That’s why I used Ilford HP5 with its grainy, atmospheric quality. Black and white film still has that effect.

It was exciting to scan the photos and open them in Photoshop and transform them using digital enhancement. Film and digital can be used together. They are not mutually exclusive. They are complimentary.

The Manchester Ship Canal and Trafford Wharf before the Imperial War Museum was built.

Number three
You can experience how photography used to be
Du kannst erleben, wie die Fotografie früher war.

It’s great to use similar equipment and materials to those used by the great photographers such as Lord Lichfield, Helmut Newton, David Bailey, Ellen von Unwerth and many others.

Whilst working in the Middle East, I used Kodak Ektrachrome as I was able to develop it at home and I used 35mm and medium format cameras.

Number four
A film camera will set you apart from others
Eine Filmkamera hebt dich von anderen ab.

Film will give your photos a different look – and a film camera is a talking point.

When I started photographing Manchester in the mid-90s, film was still the only affordable medium. I took literally thousands of photos on film, had them developed – or developed them myself, scanned the film and enhanced them.

It was a hybrid form of photography – capture on film, enhancement in digital. I went over to digital around 2000.

Number five
Good film cameras are inexpensive
Gute Filmkameras sind kostengünstig.

Today it’s possible to buy film cameras that used to cost hundreds or even thousands. In Manchester I went to the Real Camera Company where I got an Olympus OM30.

Number six
it’s fun to use a film camera
Es macht Spaß, eine Filmkamera zu benutzen.

Putting in the film – den Film einlegen – can be difficult at first. You’ll learn about the lens – das Objektiv – the aperture – die Blende and the shutter der Verschluss.

The large, bright viewfinder, the stunning depth of field, the ability of good quality film – such as Kodak Ektar – to capture subtle shades, these are some of the many plus points of using a film camera.

No 7
Developing and scanning are inexpensive
Entwickeln und Scannen sind kostengünstig.

There are plenty of places where you can have film developed. I used the online service Photo Hippo, based in Burnley in NW England. Or with a tank and some chemicals you can develop the film yourself – du kannst den Film selber entwickeln.

For my website Eyewitness in Manchester (1998-2005) took literally thousands of photographs . Many of the places and people – such as the Hacienda and Tony Wilson – are sadly gone.

In the early days of digital enhancement, scanning was slow and computers couldn’t cope with large file sizes, so I have many photos only at small size.

Dusk view of Manchester from Werneth Low, captured on grainy colour negative film

As digital photography became more established after 2000, I used film less and less. but recently I’ve partially gone back to film. I still like to take photos with a nostalgic quality, and for that, film is ideal – dafür ist der Film ideal.

There are Photoshop filters that emulate grain and the look of certain films, but I think in this age of fake news and digital dishonesty, it’s better to use the real thing. Oh, and I can’t stand the term ‘analog’ photography, for me, it’s film.

Not all film photos are technically perfect. There are spots, colour casts, but those imperfections can make the pictures unique.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to use film photography and I think everyone who is seriously intereted in photgraphy today should use it.

It’s not for professionals – in fact most professional photographers don’t use film any more – film is for everyone an additional format alongside digital.

So here again are seven reasons to use film photography
Sieben Gründe, Filmfotografie zu benutzen.

this time only in German!

Film hat einen besonderen ‘Look’

Filmfotografie kann dich zu einem besseren Fotografen machen.

Du kannst erleben, wie die Fotografie früher war.

Eine Filmkamera hebt dich von anderen ab.

Gute Filmkameras sind kostengünstig.

Es macht Spaß, eine Filmkamera zu benutzen.

Entwickeln und Scannen sind kostengünstig.

If you found this video interesting, please don’t forget to subscribe, hit the ‘like’ button, post a comment and click the ‘bell’ to receive updates.

Vielen Dank fürs Zuschauen – Many thanks for watching and Auf Wiedersehen.


On the Kings Road 1986, showing the out of focus background it’s possible to achieve using a 35mm film camera


Video: A Very Insecure Exhibition – with Karen McBride and Shari Denson

A VERY INSECURE EXHIBITION was an exhibition that took place on Friday, 22 February, 2019 in a skate park under the Mancunian Way flyover in Manchester.

It featured the photography of music photographers Karen McBride and Shari Denson, who joined forces to create this remarkable event.

A Very Insecure Exhibition was a very unconventional exhibition, in fact it was totally different to any exhibition I’ve ever been to.

I travel on or under the Mancunian Way almost every day and have walked past the skate park on numerous occasions. Never would I have imagined a photography exhibition taking place there.

The choice of venue was kept secret until the week of the event, when it was first announced on Radio Manchester’s Mike Sweeney Show.

The Mancunian Way is a by-pass road in central Manchester that was first built in the 1960s. This flyover was a later addition, opened in the 1990s. It carries the A57(M) urban motorway over the A6, where it continues as the A635(M) for a few hundred yards. I include these nerdy details as they are important in setting the scene and I know a bit about the history of Manchester.

This is the first time a photo exhibition has taken place underneath a motorway, at least in Manchester. The skate park with its walls of see-through wire netting has an air of New York.

It took about four hours to set up the exhibition. Shari and Karen worked with a team of assistants to place the photos on the sloping and curved surfaces of the skate park. Some of the pictures were cut out to fit into the available space.  The photos were printed out at large format in black and white. Some were printed on conventional photographic paper at smaller size.

“Wow, they look great!” I thought as I peered through the wire netting into the skate park, transformed into an exhibition space. We waited in the hut that serves as a cafe and reception area for users. More and more people arrived, including John Robb, Badly Drawn Boy and others from Manchester’s music scene.

At 8pm we were allowed through into the exhibition space. It was great to walk around and explore all the photos – some photos familiar to me, others unfamiliar photos of famous people.

A lot of people came – more than 350. A mobile bar was set up and it provided an air of glamour and a focus. I thought the air might be cold but it was quite mild. It was surreal, looking at photographs while cars whizzed by along the slip road outside, and above, evening traffic moved in both directions on the flyover, drivers unaware of the art event going on underneath.

The music went quiet and John Robb started his In Conversation with both photographers. He asked the right questions, and we learned a lot about their respective interests, shooting techniques and preferences. At the end the crowd clapped, just like a gig. And then there was a surprise.

All attendees were invited to take away the photographs. But there was one condition: People had to put the photos up all around Manchester and beyond and take photos of them for social media.

We managed to find some superb prints which now adorn our walls. That’s not something you can do at the National Portrait Gallery – rip the pictures off the walls!

But this was more of a ‘punk’ event than a photography exhibition. It was meant to be like a gig, and people could walk off with photographs just like the set list at a gig.

Songwriter and guitarist Dave Fidler performed some of his songs. It was great to see a real life artist performing amongst the many images of performers.

The book of the exhibition was on sale and both photographers signed copies.

All I can say is – it was a fantastic event and totally unique. Karen and Shari truly did something new and amazing. Congratulations to them! And thanks for the great photos now taking pride of place on our wall!

A Very Insecure Exhibition was held at Projekts MCR Skatepark (The Pump Cage) · Manchester.

The PA and furniture were provided by James Casper-Mason and The Worx

Photos were printed by Entwhistle.

Music side show video: ‘Vergehen’ by Urbanstrasse – 80s-style electronica music and slide show video

Vergehen was first recorded in 1985 as a demo tape, and re-recorded 20 years later, in 2005. Words and music by Aidan O’Rourke, who played keyboards, guitar, programmed the drums and did the vocals.

The track is credited to Urbanstrasse, the musical identity or band name used by Aidan O’Rourke (who is not to be confused with Scottish fiddle player of the same name!)

The lyrics are in German and present a collage of images from the 1920s and 30s, touching on war, totalitarian regimes, the inevitability of downfall and more. The verb ‘vergehen’ means passing away or fading away.

In 2018 Aidan moved increasingly into the medium of video, making slide show videos using images from his photography archive, as well as new photos and videoclips.

This format, mixing images and music, presented an ideal opportunity to present ‘Vergehen’ and ‘Berlin Berlin’ to the public as it combines his three areas of creativity and expertise: visuals, i.e. photography and illustration, music and German language

And so ‘Vergehen’ was uploaded to the Explore Learn German YouTube channel on 16th of January 2019. It was the second video to be added to the channel.

Like other videos on the channel, ‘Vergehen’ is intended to help and encourage people to learn German.

There are some intriguing aspects to the song, which uncannily predicted the future. For those interested in finding out more about this, as well as the meaning of the lyrics and images, Aidan will present a special feature on his Patreon page, for subscribers only!

‘Vergehen’ is credited to Urbanstrasse featuring Aidan O’Rourke
Music and words © Aidan O’Rourke
All photos and illustrations ©Aidan O’Rourke
Keyboards, drum programming and vocals by Aidan O’Rourke

Original 1985 recording made at Cavalier Studios, Stockport. Produced by Lol Cooper.
2005 re-recording made in Vienna, engineered and produced by Rick Turner, with creative input from Isabella Turner.

Video: Beatles locations in Liverpool and Wirral

This video is on the subject of Beatles locations in and around Liverpool and Wirral. The Beatles legacy is a huge reason for tourists to visit Liverpool. For me personally, I love visiting the locations connected with the Beatles as it helps me to discover more about Liverpool and I can relive the excitement and fascination of growing up with the music of the Beatles in the 1960s.

Liverpool Beatles Video Yellow Submarine J108

The video is narrated by me in English with German subtitles. I am using German because from 2019, the main focus of my main YouTube channel is German language. The subtitles will be of use to my students of German and those on my mailing list. I also hope to reach people in Germany who are interested in the Beatles, and who will find the German subtitles helpful and welcoming.

Liverpool Beatles Video St Peters Church

From 2019 all my videos will have a bilingual narration in English and German. I enjoy occasionally featuring other languages as well and in this Beatles video, I’m excited to be doing a Japanese version. A teaching colleague has helped with the translation into Japanese. I’ve given the video a Japanese look with Japan-influenced music by the talented young musician Bad Snacks, featured on the YouTube Audio Library.

To make the video I  travelled all over the Liverpool region on various trips and photoshoots and I’ve been to nearly all the places connected with the Beatles where tourists like to go.

The Casbah Coffee Club Liverpool

Of the many places I’ve listed so far, one of my favourites is the Casbah Coffee Club, which I visited for the first time in mid-2018. It’s an excellent place to visit as you can really experience what it was like to see John, Paul, George and Pete play in their early days.

I also love the Beatles’ childhood homes 20 Forthlin Road, home of the McCartney family,and Mendips,  where John lived with his aunt Mimi. They’re fascinating to visit as they are both time capsules of the late fifties and early sixties. It’s not possible to take photos inside the houses, so I have only exterior photos.

Just before publishing the final version of the video in January 2019, I found out that there is going to be a new Beatles attraction on the grounds of Strawberry Field. The gates will finally open and fans will be able to find out about John and the other Beatles in a visitors centre. It looks great.

Liverpool Beatles Video John Lennon

It was perhaps a controversial choice to include this Japanese-style background music in a video about a famous British band from the early sixties. However I wanted to highlight the Japanese perspective. The Beatles are very popular in Japan and many Japanese fans visit Liverpool. One of my goals is to build bridges and overcome barriers of language and culture. This is my way of doing it!

The background music is by an artist who calls herself ‘Bad Snacks’. Her work is available on the YouTube audio library and I think it is superb. I loved these two tracks when I first heard them. in fact some of the content of the video was inspired by this music.

The first track we hear is called Mizuki and has a bright, upbeat character with its Oriental style memory played using the sound of an Eastern instrument, perhaps a koto.

The second track is ‘Shibuya’ and it ‘interrupts’ the narrative in two places. The first time we jump to the little known Japanese garden in Calderstones Park. I wanted to emphasise aspects of Japanese culture in Liverpool. To be honest, there aren’t that many! When I first heard ‘Shibuya’ I immediately wanted to include images of the wonderful Japanese garden.

Liverpool Beatles Video Train to New Brighton

The second time we jump to ‘Shibuya’ we see the train to New Brighton. I got the idea of using an image of a train because in ‘Shibuya’ there is a hissing sound, perhaps from a train in Tokyo. That image and concept were taken directly from the track by the supremely talented artist Bad Snacks, or whatever her real name is. She is based in Los Angeles and I think she is destined for a very successful career as a musician. Try doing a search on YouTube to find her. She is a very talented young musician.

I hope this video will be seen and enjoyed by people in Germany and Japan as well as those living closer to home. It’s been great fun making this video, though it has taken a long time from its inception to final upload and publication on 8 January, 2018. Co-incidentally, 8 January 1947 is the birthday of David Bowie, another musician I am very keen on.

I love the Beatles music. I grew up with it as a child and two of my favourite songs or theirs are Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. They had a profound effect on me as a child and I’m glad I am able to pay tribute to them in this video.

On my Patreon page I plan to provide more background information and some interesting anecdotes that I don’t share with the wider public.

If you’d like to support what I’m doing, please visit www.patreon.com/aidanorourke

Berlin Berlin slide show music video: Geschichte – history – in an 80s’ style pop song

In this video I present some of my best photographs of Berlin from around 1982 up to 2018 against the backdrop of a song I first created and recorded in 1985, in association with some other musicians.

The song is in the style of the 1980s and has overtones of bands like Vienna, Heaven 17 and The Human League. The influence of David Bowie can also be heard. It is a history lesson in a pop song, telling the story of the division and the reunification of Berlin – die Teilung und die Wiedervereinigung von Berlin. The lyrics allude to the devastation of World War 2, the construction of the Wall – die Mauer – in 1961 and look into the future to the fall of the Berlin Wall – die Wende.

The original song was written and recorded as a demo in 1985, along with my other song ‘Vergehen’, which means ‘passing’ with an English version ‘In Silence’ but as the original sound quality wasn’t very good, I re-recorded both songs in Vienna in 2005. I finally waited another 13 years before finally releasing them as part of my Aidan O’Rourke Productions YouTube channel.

Some of the words seem premonitionary. Before each chorus, we hear ‘it will not be long’. In reality it was not long after I wrote the song before the Wall came down – almost exactly four years. But there is another shocking event that the words seem to predict. I will write about this in more detail on my Patreon blog.

The photographs were taken on a wide variety of different cameras at different times in Berlin. I lived there from 1979 to 1980 but sadly I have very few photos from that period. When I returned in 1982 I started to take photos, including the wide panorama of Potsdamer Platz that can be seen at the very beginning.

Other images were taken on black and white film and on colour negative and slide film. Some of the slides lay forgotten in an old briefcase until I scanned them when compiling the slide show video in late 2018. The video presents a total of 75 photos and videoclips – enough to fill a book, though the video is five minutes long and the lyrics amount to just 324 words (excluding repeated choruses at the end).

Berlin Berlin song and video will be posted on YouTube in 2019.

Images of snow in Manchester & Stockport with snow photography tips – article & photos

Snow arrived in Manchester on the morning of Tuesday 27 February 2018. This was the first appearance of the ‘Beast from the East’ forecast to arrive in England and Ireland this week.

People don’t like snow because it disrupts traffic, cuts off remote villages from the outside world, causes accidents and many more problems. But for us photographers, it’s a blessing. Suddenly familiar places are transformed. I like to photograph in the city and it’s also nice to go into the countryside.

When photographing snow, it can improve the picture to make picture lighter using the exposure compensation control. This is because cameras expect an average scene. When they are presented with very light, snowy scene, they tend to make the image darker than it should be.

Snow should be white but it often appears as shade of grey. So adjusting exposure compensation by plus one or plus two can make the snow white again.

The only other advice I have is… be careful not to slip! As David Bailey once advised me, photographers should always wear a good pair of shoes!

Night time images of Bata Building, Prague – Article & photos


I took this photograph of the Bata Building in Prague on a visit to the city in 2005. The images is dated 26.10.2005.

I was struck by the lights and colours of the facade, the sihouette of the trees and the people, and the contrast with the rest of the buildings on Wenceslas Square.

This image was selected for inclusion in a new edition Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture.

Here’s an alternative image taken from further back and to one side.

Prague Bata Building side view

Photo-impressions: American urban architecture and street lights

Music and architecture are connected. When I hear some genres of music I think of architecture, cityscapes and streetscapes.

Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin makes me think of New York in the 1920s and 1930s. The opening clarinet rising to a high note conjures up a picture of the Chrysler Building. My viewpoint rises from street level right up to the top of the building, with the 1930s Manhattan skyline visible beyond. I feel I have a connection with the New York of that time as my father lived there from around 1929 to 1931.

A Kind of Blue, the album by Miles Davis, also gives me strong visual associations with Manhattan in the 1950s. The album was recorded in 1959 in New York. When I hear it I can see a yellow cab making its way uptown by mostly empty warehouses.

Does my mental association come from a magical quality of the music to capture the essence of time and place, or is it just that I know it was recorded in New York at around this time? I think it could be a bit of both.

Another group that for me capture the atmosphere of New York is Weather Report. They recorded in the 1970s and 80s and that’s the era I think of. I was in New York in summer 1981, around 50 years after my father was there. When I listen to Weather Report, I can see yellow cabs, the subway, the Twin Towers, the streets and highways.

There is a quality of nostalgia, like the films of Elliott Bristow, with whom I worked when I was in New York. There’s a frustration with taking photos today. The USA of today is quite different from the one we have in our minds from times past.

The Best Of Weather Report album cover

The cover of the album ‘The Best of Weather Report’ has a remarkable photograph that completely echoes the images in my mind. It looks to me like it was taken on the West Side Highway at a traffic intersection. It must be looking west, as it appears to be a dusk sky.

On a visit to New York and Philadelphia, I took photos in a similar style to the Weather Report album cover. I’ve always found street lighting to be an important part of the cityscape and very visually interesting, especially at nightfall when the lights start to glow against the dusk sky.

These photos are not going to win any photography prizes. I don’t take photos to win prizes or to make money. I take photos to capture my mental impressions and make them visible to others.

All photos taken on the Canon 550D digital SLR camera with the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens.

My review of the Liverpool Albert Dock and Three Graces Walking Tour

If you’re visiting a city and want to get the inside story on its history and attractions, who should you go to? A tour guide of course.

I know Liverpool well but I’m always interested in finding out more. That’s the reason why I went on a tour of The Albert Dock and the Three Graces. I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered many new facts.

For instance, I didn’t know that the Albert Dock is the largest complex of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK, that it was a state-of-the-art building when first built in 1846. I knew already from a tour with historian Quentin Hughes that it was nearly demolished. That was in the 1970s when the Albert Dock was in a derelict state, the basins were silted up and the entire district was closed off. The proposal was to demolish the buildings, fill in the docks and replace them with a car park. Thankfully the Albert Dock was restored and is now Liverpool’s top tourist attraction. It is a unique place – inside the solid brick warehouses house restaurants, apartments, shops, the Tate Liverpool, the Beatles Experience and the Liverpool Maritime Museum, incorporating the Museum of Slavery. The Albert Dock is a must-see for all visitors to Liverpool and a regular haunt for those of us who live in or not far from the city.

There are many reminders of its past – the Dock Traffic Office with its Roman style portico – actually the pillars are hollow and made of cast iron. It was used as a studio for Granada Television. Round the corner there’s a curious ‘helter-skelter’ chute on the exterior of the building. I’d never even noticed it before. It was used to carry ice cubes from the upper floors to a cart where they would be transported to the homes of Liverpool’s wealthy families. The Pump House – now a restaurant – contained the hydraulic pumps used to open and close the lock gates. The Piermaster’s House has been furnished in the style of World War II, when Liverpool was a major target for bombing. You can imagine the Piermaster and his family listening to the wireless and then hearing the air raid siren echoing over the docks.

A few minutes walk away and we come to the three magnificent buildings which are the most famous symbol of Liverpool, often referred to as the ‘Three Graces’. They were built on the site of St George’s Dock. Around the turn of the 20th century it was filled in and two streets were extended across it – Brunswick Street and Water Street. dividing it into three rectangles. On each of these three sites, three buildings appeared: The Port of Liverpool building, the Liver Building and the Cunard Building, completed in 1907, 1911 and 1916, respectively.

The Port of Liverpool Building was designed by Sir Arnold Thornley and F.B. Hobbs and is magnificent inside and out. It was the headquarters of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board until 1994. Today the building is used by private companies. I was surprised to discover it is only Grade II* listed. It has many superb architectural features. The dome is similar to St Paul’s Cathedral and Belfast City Hall. Many people are not aware that it’s possible to go inside the lobby and admire the magnificent view up towards the inside of the dome. It is a building with ‘wow’ factor. The exterior made of Portland Stone.

It’s important to note that up until the 1960s the exteriors of all three buildings were blackened by air pollution. I will never forget visiting Liverpool in the late 1960s just after they were cleaned. The Port of Liverpool Building seemed to me like a gigantic wedding cake made of pure white icing sugar. Today, in bright, clear sunlight, the exterior for me has a ‘singing ringing’ effect. There are many parallels between architecture and music, but that’s another story!

Next door to it is the Cunard Building, which is also Grade II* Listed. This was once the terminal for wealthy passengers boarding transatlantic liners. They would complete their paperwork in the grand hall and make their way to the front lobby to await embarkation. Our tour guide painted a vivid picture of the hall, with its elegant interior and perhaps a string quartet playing tasteful music. Today that area is the British Music Experience, a permanent exhibition dedicated to the history of popular British Music. It’s not possible to go to the upper floors of the Cunard Building. This is a working office building, and surely one of the best addresses in Liverpool. The building was designed by William Edward Willink and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse, and was inspired by the Farnese Place in Rome. It was the headquarters of the Cunard Line until the late 1960s. Since 2015 it is owned by Liverpool City Council. The office of the Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson, is in the Cunard Building. One interesting fact: It is slightly wider at the rear and so has the shape of an uneven rectangle. Like the Port of Liverpool building it is faced in Portland Stone.

The Liver Building is the most famous building in Liverpool. It is made of granite and so the exterior colour is rather dull. But due to its unique design and the two clock towers at either end, topped with the world famous Liver birds, it has become a powerful symbol of Liverpool. Local people are very proud of the building, which can be seen from many vantage points in the city and across the Mersey. It is a building of superlatives. It was Europe’s first skyscraper. It was the tallest building in Europe from 1911 to 1932. The clock faces are bigger than those on the Elizabeth Tower of the Houses of Parliament – more commonly known as Big Ben. The Liver Building is inspired by architecture of the USA, reflecting Liverpool’s rich transatlantic connections. It was designed by Walter Aubrey Thomas and is rightly Grade I listed. Two mythical Liver Birds at the top of the building soon became the symbol of Liverpool. They were designed by the German woodcarver Carl Bernard Bartels.

Originally from Stuttgart Carl Bernard Bartels settled in England and became a naturalised British citizen. He won the commission to design the mythical birds which were completed in 1911. Despite having British citizenship he was interned on the Isle of Man during the First World War and was deported in 1918, leaving his wife behind. He returned and spent the rest of his life in the UK.

The interior of Liverpool’s most famous building may surprise many visitors. Unlike the other two buildings, the Liver building has an interior space. After renovations, the lobby is contemporary in style, with some original features visible, including a plaque dedicated to Carl Bernard Bartels. Looking up through the glass roof of the lobby into the inside space, you will see that the interior walls have been covered with a modern style glass cladding. It’s invisible from the outside of course, but in my opinion, it spoils the character of the building. In my opinion the building should at some time in the future be restored to its original state.

And after we emerged from the side entrance of the Liver building, our tour came to an end. Our Blue Badge guide Tony Boner really entertained and informed us with his deep local knowledge and Liverpudlian sense of humour.

My advice to anyone, anywhere: Even if you’re a local, book a guided tour with a knowledgeable guide. You’ll learn many new things!

Review of the Queer Noise exhibition, Pump House Museum, Manchester

Queer Noise is an exhibition at Manchester’s Pump House Museum about the development of the LGBT+ club and music scene mainly from the seventies and eighties. It’s just a small exhibition but it is very concentrated and presents a wealth of fascinating photos, artifacts, articles, posters as well as audio and video recordings.

One of the themes is the crossover between the mid-70s punk scene and what we now call LGBT. In those days members of that community remained mostly hidden. There were just a few places in Manchester city centre where they could be amongst themselves and enjoy a night out without the fear of ‘queer bashing’ or worse.

One of those places was the Ranch, a tiny basement club on Dale St set up by the prominent Manchester drag artist Foo Foo Lamarr. I went to the Ranch around 1977. A friend of mine was fascinated with the unbelievable costumes and make-up the girls were wearing and he took me along to see them. There I was confronted with punk rock in all its defiant and often nihilistic energy. This was a club where the motto was ‘anything goes’ but there was also an air of violence. Going up the stairs I to the exit, I was punched in the face. I think it might have been outsiders drawn into the club to witness the spectacle and indulge in a bit of ‘bashing’.

The Ranch is featured in the exhibition, and there is a remarkable photo of members of the Buzzcocks staggering out the front entrance. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the photographer, in fact I wasn’t taking photos at that time. If I had been I might have a prime collection today, but now is not the time for regrets! There some excellent black and white prints by Linder Sterling, Kevin Cummins and Dave Kendrick, Jon Shard and Al Baker.

The exhibition is also about artifacts and I should mention that it is based on a collection of items from the Manchester Digital Music Archive, of which I’m a trustee, though I had no involvement in putting together the exhibition. That honour goes to fellow MDMA person Abigail Ward, who has tirelessly worked to document all aspects of Manchester’s music scene, presented in the MDMArchive.co.uk website.

The exhibition takes up a small footprint as part of the exhibits on the second floor but is packed with interesting material. I love to hear recordings of people and I listened to a fascinating description of the club scene by a speaker who came over from Ireland. In her very appealing Irish accent, she talked about the pub on Princess Street, the Union, later known as the New Union and other venues where people from the LGBT community gathered.

I was also interested to hear an interview with Pete Shelley, whom I interviewed myself at the Russell Club in 1979. Sadly I lost my notes, scribbled on paper and my interview was never published. My lack of success of documenting those times is one of the reasons why I appreciate exhibitions like this.

When you’re off out for a wild night on the town, most people don’t bother to bring a pen and notepaper to jot down the venues they go to, the people they meet, the music they listen to and the antics they get up to, though today’s technology can record what is happening and may be valued in the future as a record of present times.

My memories of the seventies are mostly a haze, though a few key events stand out in my mind including my visits to the chaotic Ranch club.

Reading the articles, watching the video footage, interspersed with snippets of music, I felt a sense of nostalgia and wanting to go back. We can’t go back but at least we can build a picture of what it was like in a time when there were very different attitudes and social conventions to today. The advances made by the LGBT community in asserting their identity and rights has led to the much more relaxed and tolerant atmosphere we have today and perhaps take for granted.

Queer Noise gives us a great insight into different times, but I understand that it’s just a pilot for what could be a much bigger and more comprehensive exhibition. I can’t wait to see it.

The Manchester Digital Music Archive was extensively redesigned and modernised in 2017, making it device-responsive and vastly improving its functionality and visual appeal. It contains an astonishing collection of artifacts related to popular music in the Manchester area. The screenshot on the right shows just a part of the Queer Noise online exhibition. Some of these items are on display at the Queer Noise exhibition at the Pump House Museum. Click on the image to go to the Queer Noise online exhibition.

Screenshot Queer Noise exhibition 2017

Salford Lads Club Blue Plaque Exhibition

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

Salford Lads Club name before and after renovation

The red brick arched doorway and facade of Salford Lads Club has been seen countless times in a set of black and white photographs of the Smiths taken outside the club by Stephen Wright in the mid-80s.

Since then thousands of fans have flocked to the location to have their photo taken at the same spot. But what many don’t realise is that you can visit Salford Lads Club. In fact many visitors who go there to have their photo taken are invited by volunteers to come inside and have a look around.

As you enter, the tiles, brickwork and window frames seem to exude an atmosphere of the past. The Smiths room contains memorabilia and the signatures of ‘pilgrims’ who have come here.

There is a room with snooker tables and photos on the walls showing young club members on field trips going back decades.

Upstairs the pristine green snooker tables are the orginal ones that have been used for over 100 years. In the boxing rooms I could imagine myself in a scene from the film ‘Rocky’.

But it’s important to remember this is not a museum, it’s a working club for young people, today providing activities for both girls and boys.

The building has undergone extensive renovation. Practically every room has been restored as closely as possible to how it was over 100 years ago.

Salford Lads Club is one of the most surprising and special places in the Manchester area, and wherever you’re from from you’ll receive a special Salford welcome and perhaps a personal guided tour.

To coincide with the Manchester International Festival 2017, Salford Lads Club put on an exhibition with tongue-in-cheek blue plaques. Project Manager Leslie Holmes told me he had been to London and seen them everywhere and decided to create a humorous exhibition on this theme. The plaques will put on display again at other events. I include just a selection here. To see them all you’ll need to go and visit Salford Lads Club.

Aidan’s review of Cotton Panic by Jane Horrocks – Why mainstream reviewers got it wrong

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic

Jane Horrocks performing in Cotton Panic


As I understand it, one of the aims of the MIF is to stretch artistic boundaries, to encourage people, both performers and audiences, to move out of their comfort zone, to experiment, take risks and try out new things.

That’s certainly true of Cotton Panic, a unique combination of theatre, music, on-screen projections and sound effects, narrated and performed by Jane Horrocks, created by Jane Horrocks, Nick Vivian and the electronic band Wrangler. The show was fittingly held inside the decaying Upper Campfield Market hall on Deansgate.

I looked at a few reviews in mainstream newspapers and as usual I found them unhelpful, as they didn’t understand the concept and contained petty criticisms.

I decided to write a review myself to give proper credit to this very powerful and inspiring musical-theatrical creation.

In fact, I was so impressed with Cotton Panic I went to see it twice.

So what was it about the show that grabbed me? There are many reasons, many aspects overlooked and ignored by the reviewers.

One of the most striking things is it is self-contradictory, a merging of opposites. It combines modern electronic music and imagery to tell a story that takes place in the mid-19th century. Folk songs are combined with contemporary techno, produced on stage by the three musicians working behind the semi-transparent screen. It was exciting to see an old computer with glowing lights on the left, and a reel to reel tape recorder on the right. What would the people of 1862 have made of these instruments?

A couple of the reviews describe it as ‘gig-theatre’, a term I find condescending. It’s a mixture of music, drama, dance, on-screen imagery presented on a stage in front of a standing audience.

This is a story that’s an important part of the history of Manchester. It’s our history and it’s still relevant today. The cotton famine came about due to the American Civil War. Southern American ports were blockaded by the north. The supply of cotton was stopped, causing the Lancashire cotton industry to grind to a halt. This caused huge poverty. But the workers of Lancashire remained in solidarity with the American president due to his opposition to slavery. This fact is documented in Manchester’s Abraham Lincoln statue, which appears on screen.

The story is told by Jane Horrocks, sometimes singing in her very high voice, sometimes narrating, and occasionally shrieking, against the loud, techno musical backdrop,

The three huge screens, one behind the performers and two on either side, show images projected by industrial size digital projectors. Cotton dust like a snow storm is a constant feature as well as a ghostly female figure that could be called ‘Queen Cotton’.

At other times, we see quotations by authors describing the events of the time and the terrible poverty. We see a gigantic face of Glenda Jackson, reading a dignified description of terrible poverty that’s still shocking after a century and a half.

Later we see a facial close-up of an African-British actor – I’ve not managed to find out his name – delivering more powerful quotations.

It’s always very interesting when new connections and juxtapositions are made. The deafening roar of the factory machines is echoed in the industrial beats of the electronic music. Could it be that Manchester’s electro sound was inspired by its industrial heritage? Maybe. A woman in factory overalls does a traditional clog dance to a contemporary beat. The clogs looked like they are very good quality, I wonder where they were made.

There were many transatlantic echoes. In the early part of the show, the Lancashire cotton towns are read out in time with the music, and later, towns in the southern US states. Jane Horrocks waves a mid-19th century US flag. Later there are contemporary media images of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, interspersed with glimpses of mayhem on the streets, Donald Trump and Brexit.

Jane Horrocks is the lynchpin of the performance, holding it all together from beginning to end. She is a unique actor, a talented singer and a powerful narrator, her voice often amplified with a megaphone. She can transform herself from an angry agitator into a helpless child beggar, emphasised by her very high voice.

In one section, she wanders into the audience, repeating the words ‘Can you help me a bit?’, over and over again, and then then she is lifted up on the shoulders of fellow performers. It was moving – you could see it in the reactions of audience members.

In the reviews I gather that commentators found this and other sections a bit long and perhaps self-indulgent. I totally reject this criticism. The long sections emphasise drudgery and repetitiveness, whether of a 10-hour working day in a cotton mill, or a long day spent begging in the streets for a few pennies. The architecture of the piece is spread out and not curtailed in order to pander to a short attention span.

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market

Hall of the Upper Campfield Market before its conversion for ‘Cotton Panic’

I’ve heard people complain films are too long, like 2001 ‘Oh, it was too long’. No, that’s wrong! Its length is the whole point! It’s like complaining that The Cruel Sea has too much sea in it, or Lawrence of Arabia has too much desert. Cotton Panic has long, repetitive sections that help to tell the story. If they are longer than the three second sound bite editing culture of today, so be it.

What other interesting juxtapositions are there? I loved the use of Slave to the Rhythm by Grace Jones in connection to the rhythm of the cotton spinning machines. In the latter stages of the story, the cotton workers decide to go for a meeting at the Free Trade Hall, which is just around the corner from the venue. She sings the words ‘Anger is an energy’ from the song by Johnny Rotten, co-founder of The Sex Pistols, who performed at an infamous gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976.

I was astonished at the statistics and learned a lot. Whilst there was much poverty, some cotton Lancashire workers earned very high wages, the highest in the country. Seeing Cotton Famine has encouraged me to find out more about this forgotten period in Manchester’s history.

I saw the performance twice – on Thursday 14th and again on Saturday 16th and both times I was captivated. The second time I stood near the front, close to the stage and watched as Jane Horrocks came out into the audience just a few feet away. On both occasions I saw it, it was absorbing and the time flew.

It’s a shame the reviewers failed to appreciate these qualities. I often think that reviews should be mostly written by people who know how to appreciate a piece of music or theatre, rather than those who don’t, or perhaps they were asleep, or thinking about going to the pub afterwards.

This was a show about our city, Manchester, our history, our region, presented using the medium of the music that came out of our city – techno / electronic, presented by artists from around here. It has a clear and simple concept. It was very powerful musically, theatrically and historically and was perfectly in the spirit of the Manchester International Festival. I unreservedly give it a five star rating.


Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.


John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.


The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.


Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.

Why the Bootle St plans (St Michael’s) must be rejected

Bootle St police station facade

Following criticisms of the 2016 proposals, a redesign was produced in mid-2017 by Hodder Architects. Read my initial reactions in this article.

After the police moved out of the 1930s Bootle St station, the property was purchased. Initially the impression was given that the old police building was to be converted into a hotel. In 2016 the present plans were announced. They are shocking in their scale, destructiveness and lack of respect for the surrounding area and must be rejected. Here are the reasons why.

1) The area doesn’t ‘urgently’ need redevelopment.
It’s said the site needs to be redeveloped. This is not true. The site is one of countless parts of the city centre where a building has been vacated. The urgency lies with the developers, who obviously are keen to see a financial return on their investment. It’s perfectly okay for the site to remain as it is for the time being. Better to wait a few years for a better development that suits the location than to rush ahead with an inappropriate one like this.


The Abercromby pub July 2015

2) The Abercromby pub will be destroyed
Pubs have a special status, especially when they are of historical significance. They are often the only buildings to survive from the earlier city. That’s certainly true of the Abercromby, which was first built in the early 1800s. It has connections to the 1819 Peterloo massacre, a key development in history. Not only that, it is a successful business and a well-loved watering hole in the city. 4152 names are on a petition to save the Abercromby. People come to Manchester for its uniqueness and historic character. That aspect will be degraded if the pub is destroyed. The developers have tried to downgrade the value of the pub by saying that some parts were built in the 20th century. That argument is not valid as other parts of the pub are original. It’s the name, significance and role in the history of Manchester that’s important. If the development goes ahead, people will never forget that a well-loved pub was destroyed to make way for it.

Manchester Central Synagogue

3) The Reform Synagogue will be demolished.
There’s an attitude among planners that dictates ‘If it’s in our way and not listed, demolish it.’ The result of this tendency is for scores of interesting buildings in the second and third category to be lost. It’s not just the highest grade of historic buildings that help to define the character of the city. Many less remarkable ones do as well, and they should be kept wherever possible. The Reform Synagogue may not be in the highest category as regards architectural merit, but it is still a place of worship and deserves respect. It was one of the first buildings to be constructed in Manchester city centre after the war (completed 1953). Just imagine the significance of a new synagogue in Manchester after what happened in Europe only 10 years previously. It must have encapsulated a sense of hope, rebirth and optimism. And now it is to be demolished. I’ve been aware of it for many years and have photographed it quite a few times. It has an austere elegance that’s far superior to the architecture the planners want to replace it with. They say a new place of worship will be provided – along the lines of Cross St Chapel – but a new facility can never replace the history and aura of the original. The building is certainly run down and in need of renovation, and so it should be renovated. And in passing, the developers have chosen the name “St Michael’s” as he is the patron saint of police officers, whose former building they are going to demolish. But co-incidentally St Michael is also protector of the Jewish religion.


4) Bootle Street police station façade will be destroyed.
The police station was built in the 1930s and served the city through the war years and the decades that followed. It was in use for around seventy years. By the end of the period it had become unsuitable for a modern police force. It’s said it was like working on the set of Life on Mars. The police have moved out, but that should not be the end of the story for this building. I wouldn’t advocate keeping the brick built part, but the white stone eastern façade is a striking piece of architecture: stolid, traditional, neo-classical and not fashionable with today’s planners and architects. One of the superb aspects of the façade is how it fits in with the streetscape. Looking along Southmill Street, the Victorian brick-built façades alternate with the white stone facade, followed by 19th century façades leading to Albert Square. The interplay of styles, colours and materials is an essential aspect of the area. All that will all be lost if the planners get their wish and the façade is wrecked. And there’s another aspect to keep in mind. Now that the police have gone, the façade functions as a monument to their work over the decades. In this sense the façade functions as a memorial, and memorials should be kept. Some people criticise ‘façadism’ but there are many successful examples of it in Manchester.

5) Development is inappropriate in a ‘quiet zone’.
Cities don’t have to have to be ‘developed to death’. Cities should have light and shade. They should have busy parts, quiet parts and this is a quiet area. Bounded by two community assets: the synagogue and the pub. They are close to a historic concert hall façade – the Free Trade Hall – a superb piece of ‘façadism’, and the site of a memorable event in history – the Peterloo Massacre. It is already designated as a conservation area. The construction of a brash, destructive, materialistic commercial development like this is completely out of character with the area. The Friends Meeting House dates from the early 19th century and is a place of quiet contemplation. The new development with its towering blocks, bars and restaurants will just a few feet across the street from the rear of the Quakers meeting house.

6) Towers too high, too close to the town hall
One of the most damaging aspects of the plan is the imposition of two massive towers. They stand too close to the town hall. From the town hall balcony they will screen a significant part of the view to the south west. Viewed from the south west they will obscure the town hall clock tower. They will diminish and encroach upon the character and atmosphere of the mid-Victorian square. It would appear that the developers have had to resort to oversized towers in order to fully realise the commercial potential of this rather limited site. I’m a fan of tall buildings but not in a location like this. Make Architects already have a controversial development in their portfolio. 5 Broadgate in London was nominated for the Carbuncle Cup. An article on BDOnline states: “Make’s building arrogantly ignores the existing urban context.” The same looks to be true of this proposal. The black shiny exterior gives them a high-tech quality, reminiscent of a science fiction film and totally out of character in the Victorian setting.

7) It adds nothing new to Manchester
The development just adds more bars, offices and apartments to the city. There is no new cultural offering, no new significant piece of architecture, no new community benefit. It offers more of what Manchester already has an abundance of. Just one block away, the Great Northern and Bar 38 have provided the same type of amenities since 2000. Spinningfields offers something very similar just across Deansgate.

Bar 38 20 July 2000 Bar 38 and the Great Northern Piazza 20 July 2000 about 200 yards from the proposed development.

If the plan is approved, it will send out a negative message, further eroding the already tarnished reputation of Manchester City Council as regards planning decisions. The popular voice will be very harsh on St Michael’s: ‘They knocked down three buildings to make way for that? How could they do that? What on earth is wrong with them?’

If the development were located on a different site, further out of the city centre, and without the need for demolition of heritage buildings, I would have no particular objection to it.

But in this location, the development is inappropriate and harmful. I believe most local citizens will agree with me and for this reason, planning permission must be refused.

PLEASE NOTE: Since I wrote this article in 2016, a revised proposal has been produced. Read my initial reaction to it here.

Why Manchester’s Smith’s Arms pub should be saved

There are few things more important in our lives than buildings. New buildings, old buildings, they make our world, they are a reflection of us as human beings. We live in them, work in them, shop in them and do practically everything else in them.

We travel the world to see them. We look at them in awe, pay a fortune to view them stay in them. Often we hate them and complain about them. Personally, I love to draw them (see image above).

The buildings people most appreciate are old buildings and not just the big, famous ones.

So why are we knocking so many of them down? In summer 2016 several significant, arguably iconic Manchester buildings are to be destroyed.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats August 2016

One of the most significant among them is a former pub, The Smiths Arms in Ancoats. It’s over 200 years old and predates many of the industrial buildings Ancoats is famous for. It was in use through the 19th and 20th centuries, surviving many upheavals, including the industrial revolution, war and industrial decline.

Like many buildings in Ancoats, it’s been out of use but has great potential for reuse. All around are stunning examples of how old buildings can be given a new lease of life, most notably Halle St Peters, which stands next to it.

Restored Halle St Peters  Ancoats

Restored Halle St Peters Ancoats

Although run down due to neglect, the Smith’s Arms could still easily be restored.

So why has Manchester City Council decided it must be demolished?

For this article I am not interested in the design of the new development, its background, or the fact that it’s a consortium of Manchester City Council and a company based in Abu Dhabi, where I worked for four years.

I am only interested in the building with its façade reminiscent of an age so different to our own. I can hear the hammers of the construction workers who put it up in the late 18th century, the proud owner welcoming customers, the echoes of the people who went in there down years.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

The Smiths Arms pub, Ancoats Manchester. Ornamental detail.

I can see the changing scene around it, in time lapse, at first open spaces and then a growing number of factories and commercial buildings, then dwellings and places of worship.

You can learn so much by focusing the bricks, the ornamentation, the typeface of “Smith’s Arms” lettering above the main door.

And there is an additional aspect. The Smiths is the name of one of Manchester’s most famous bands, although to my knowledge they didn’t have any connection with the pub.

The drummer of the Smiths, Mike Joyce, took part in protests to save the pub.

Now let’s move from the past into the future and let’s assume that good sense will prevail and the building is saved.

Scaffolding goes up, the builders get to work and when the covers come down there is a pristine building, unique, fashionable, a place to go and visit, hang out, contributing to the community spirit of the area. Inside much of it is new but there are some original features. It’s surrounded by a variety of other complimentary, a stimulating mix of old and new, quirky and imaginative. The new owners have made a connection with the name and there is a theme of ‘The Smiths’ inside, with photographs and memorabilia. It has become a magnet for fans of the Smiths.

Now let’s explore the alternative scenario. Manchester City Council gets its way and building is destroyed.

What’s there? Nothing. No bricks that have survived two centuries, no quirky designed lettering. It’s gone. It doesn’t exist. It never existed, or so it seems. And in its place?
Concrete, or maybe glass or maybe those awful terracotta tiles that can be seen on numerous other buildings nearby.

The Smith’s Arms and all its history, all the memories it contains, the associations it conjures up, has been destroyed to make way for an apartment building that may not last more than a few decades.

One less reason to visit Ancoats and Manchester.

The Smith's Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

The Smith’s Arms pub, Ancoats 8 August 2016

That’s the reason why we must preserve old buildings, not just the big, Grade 1 listed buildings but also the smaller less noticeable ones, like the Smith’s Arms. Because they are rich in memories and associations, because they have a power to fascinate, and that’s what most people like, both residents and visitors. Because they look good and add interest and quirkiness to the street scene.

Because they are better than anything that present day architecture can build.

And so to answer my question above, why did Manchester City Council decide it had to be demolished? I believe that the people taking the decisions don’t fully appreciate old buildings. They move within the corridors of city-based power, less visible and accountable than at the national level. The council is constantly short of money and is always looking for any means to increase its income. A crumbling old pub is just a minor barrier to be removed, and the people campaigning for it to be saved are standing in the way of progress, causing the inconvenience and expense.

The Smith's Arms frontage and lettering


If the Smith’s Arms is destroyed, Manchester City Council will in my opinion have committed yet another act of civic vandalism against the city it is supposed to be caring for. People will complain about it in strong words. They will become further alienated from local democracy and how we rebuild and renew our cities.The damage will be irreversible and yet another piece of the mosaic of Manchester will have been ripped out.

View from Tranmere – Story behind the image

Rodney Street Birkenhead looking towards Liverpool
One of the themes of the Eyewitness blog is ‘secrets behind the image’. In this post I am going to write about the creative and technical questions underlying this photograph of Rodney Street, in Tranmere, near Birkenhead on the Wirral.

About the location
I love to photograph cities. To be frank I find the man-made environment more interesting than the natural environment. I was driving through Tranmere, close to Birkenhead town centre, and glimpsed the view down a long straight street looking towards Liverpool.

The street is Rodney Street, Birkenhead, not to be confused with Rodney Street, Liverpool. The view is similar to the one in the famous photograph of the Ark Royal by the photographer Edward Chambre Hardman (1898-1988). He lived on Rodney St Liverpool and his home is open to the public. If you’re interested in photography I definitely recommend it.

The view here looking roughly east north east towards the centre of Birkenhead, with north Liverpool in the distance. I love the effect of the long, straight street with the houses on either side and north Liverpool skyline in the distance.

We can see the ventilation shaft of the Queensway (Birkenhead) Tunnel centre right. It overlooks the River Mersey, which is hidden in this view. Just to its left is the Tobacco Warehouse on the Liverpool side of the river.

Technical info
The photo was taken with my new Canon 750D DSLR camera, using the Tamron 16-300mm zoom lens. (I’ll review this camera in another post).

I took the photograph in Program Auto mode, which I use in most situations. The camera chose the settings of 1/160s f/6.3 ISO100. This indicates the light level was plus two thirds of a stop. (If you’d like to find out more about light level and why it’s important, why not take a look at one of my walks or courses.)

The lens was at focal length 70mm so it is roughly mid-way in its range from 18mm wide angle to 300mm telephoto.

Previously I used the Tamron 18-270mm lens which was excellent. The newer 16-300mm Tamron is even better as it gives you slightly more wide angle and slightly more telephoto than the previous one.

In this case, I was able to frame or crop the view at 70mm. For comparison, here’s the view taken at 16mm wide angle. It’s clear that to get the best effect, you have to zoom in, but not too far. I zoomed in so the street and houses were visible, as well as the skyline at the top.

This photo was taken in the evening. The sun is shining from the west – off to the left – and lighting up the tops of the houses. The street was mostly in shadow. I lightened up the street slightly in Photoshop. I also rotated the image by about 1.5 degrees.

For the symmetry of the composition, it’s important to stand in the centre of the street.

In summary
It’s not a perfect image. Coming from the left, the light leaves the street partly in shadow – It would probably have been better to take the image earlier in the day with the sun directly behind. However I don’t take photos for the sake of technical perfection or to win competitions. I simply take photos to capture the striking views I see around me. Whether they are of interest to the viewer is up to them!

Here’s the same view taken at 18mm
Rodney Street, Tranmere, Wirral, Liverpool region / Merseyside

Why I’m proud to be Civic Champion Number 2

At last! Finally! After all these years of documenting Manchester in photos and words, highlighting, writing, campaigning, I have finally gained some recognition!

On Thursday 7 July I found out that I had won second prize in the Manchester Shield Citizen Champion Award. In the number one position was Maxine Peake, Coronation St actress, and in third place, tour guide and writer Jonathan Schofield.

Manchester Shield Best and Worst

Manchester Shield Best and Worst – Aidan O’Rourke Second prize Civic Champion

I was very happy to receive this honour from Manchester Shield, a grassroots collection of people who care deeply about the development of our city, and are not afraid to express their views.

In summary what I have done is to use photography to document and showcase the city with the aim of providing a record for the future. By doing this I’ve also put the spotlight on how the development of the city has gone well in some respects but badly in others.

I have used photography to document and campaign. That’s different to most other photographers who use photography to help promote commercial clients, or who focus on newsworthy events or take photos with an eye to winning competitions.

I focus on the city, the skyline, the streets, the transport routes, bridges, canals and everything else you see around you. My photographs are not stock images and most wouldn’t win any competitions. They are just my view of the city. As a spinoff, many have been used commercially – most recently a photo of the Victoria Baths in the Observer newspaper. But most are taken just to capture what’s there today and might not be there tomorrow. My photos are always accompanied by words, which are often overlooked.

I have experimented with all kinds of photographic genres but the one I’m known for is photographs of the city, Manchester, also Liverpool and other locations.

My photos have been used in the media, including the Manchester Evening News, magazines, publications and many websites. If you go into Waterstones, you’ll find several local interest books with my photos on the cover and inside. A lot of people have told me they have followed my work over the years. I’m always pleased to hear those words.

I’ve been interviewed a number of times on radio and TV. But I’ve never received any official recognition from the authorities, least of all from Manchester City Council, but that’s not surprising, is it?

I’d like to say many thanks to Manchester Shield for nominating me and also to the people who voted for me. I hope to use this impetus to push ahead with some new projects – I’m not sure what – in order to continue to highlight local development, what’s gone well and what hasn’t gone well, maybe with a stronger and more confident voice than before.

In the pictures are 20 of the buildings / locations I’ve highlighted over the years. How many more will there be in the years to come?

Photo-impressions: River Liffey, Dublin

Here are some photographic impressions of a new symbol of Dublin, the Samuel Beckett Bridge.

The bridge exists to provide a link between the newly redeveloped Dockland areas to north and south of the river Liffey.

From the first time I saw it, I was very impressed with it. Its graceful, sweeping shape looks very pleasing. The supporting cables are eye-catching and I thought reminded me of something. Later I realised what it was: the harp, prime symbol of Ireland that can be seen on coins, government buildings and Ryanair planes.

Here are some notes and technical information on the photographs

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

Samuel Beckett Bridge at night

This is a composite of two overlapping photographs. I rested the camera on a concrete post on the riverside and aimed the camera towards the left side of the bridge then the right. I merged the two in Photoshop. The shutter speed was half a second, that’s five stops below the standard shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The aperture is f/8, one stop above the standard of f/5.6 and the ISO was 800, two stops faster than 200. So the overall light level in this photo is minus six. That’s exactly what we would expect for a night scene

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

Samuel Beckett Bridge looking from south to north

This is a composite panoramic photo consisting of three overlapping images. I merged them in Photoshop Photomerge. The camera settings were 1/320s f/10.0 and ISO100. Going from the standard settings, these settings are plus two and two thirds, plus one and two thirds and minus one, respectively. The light level is therefore plus three, which is typical for a scene lit by bright sunshine. The angle emphasises the width and unique triangular form of the bridge, seen from this angle.

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

The Samuel Beckett Bridge seen from the west

Looking east along the river Liffey through the Samuel Beckett Bridge towards the twin chimneys of Ringsend power station. Camera settings 1/250s f/9.0 ISO100. Plus two, plus one and a third and minus one respectively, the overall light level is plus two and one third, typical of a daytime scene in bright sunshine.

The Samual Beckett Bridge in 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

The Samual Beckett Bridge on 5 June 2009 shortly after delivery from Rotterdam

Camera settings are: 1/250s f/8.0 ISO100 plus two, plus one and minus one respectively. Overall light level is plus one. This photo was taken six and a half years before the photos above from a similar viewpoint. The bridge is about to be placed in its permanent position. There is smoke coming out of the chimneys of the power station. Since then the chimneys are no longer in use but have been allowed to stand as they are a such a familiar symbol of Dublin.

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

View of the Port of Dublin in 2006 prior to the appearance of the Samuel Beckett Bridge

Camera settings 1/30s f/7.1 ISO800(estimatd) The camera was the Nikon D100, capture date 1 November 2006. The ISO wasn’t recorded but I would estimate it to be around 800, so the overall light level is minus three and two thirds. This moody and atmospheric view was taken from the ferry from Holyhead as it was about to dock in Dublin.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my very useful approach to camera exposure, why not come on one of my photo walks or book a one to one session.

Photo-impressions: Heaton Mersey Dusk Skies

Winter sunset over Wythenshawe

On a walk by the Mersey on 28 Dec I unexpectedly got two very interesting twilight views down the river, with the lights of the M60 out of focus in the distance. Earlier I took a photos series of the sun setting over Wythenshawe. The trees of the Mersey Valley visible in the lower part of the picture. The sun is setting behind one of the blocks of flats. A mobile phone mast is silhouetted on the right.

There are opportunities for amazing images all around us. You really don’t need to go to a distant location to capture striking images. I love the atmosphere as twilight fades into darkness.

Lights over the River Mersey at dusk

When I posted this image on Facebook, I joked: ‘This image is taken from 100 views of the Meru Sai river by the celebrated Japanese printmaker Eidan Oroku.’ I love Japanese woodblock prints, especially Hokusai and I think this image has the quality of one of his prints – the pink coloured sky, the view through the plants and the river which could perhaps be the Sumida river in Tokyo in the 1860s. The lights are on the M60 motorway. In the middle is the weir near Vale Road, Heaton Mersey. I love the out of focus street lights effect, and this is used on the film Lost in Translation set in Tokyo.

Dusk lights through branches Heaton Mersey

On my dusk walk by the River Mersey, I was struck by the ‘Chinese’ quality of what I saw in front of me. The branches form the shape of a diamond with a view through them into the distance. I moved back and zoomed in a bit, throwing the street lamps a little more out of focus – I love that effect. Below the river Mersey flows towards the west. This image has shades of traditional Chinese art, although there are no birds sitting on the branches! I am often inspired by art of all kinds. It’s essential for photographers to develop an artistic visual awareness. The best way to do that is to study art.

Heaton Mersey is in Stockport Metropolitan Borough about 6 miles south of Manchester city centre. There are great footpaths along the river and along the disused London Midland railway viaduct.

Movie locations in Manchester and Stockport

Stockport Railway Viaduct, 1980s

Stockport Railway Viaduct, captured on Ilford HP5 black and white film around 1987. I developed the film myself and made prints. Later I scanned the  negatives and optimised them in Photosohp.

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Friday 12 February 2016. Many movies have been made in the Manchester area but few are set there. Images from films can be a big inspiration for photography. Not many films have been made in Manchester but all of the movies mentioned here have a strong visual impact.

For me, A Taste of Honey (1961) remains my number one locally made movie. It was filmed mostly in Stockport, Manchester and Salford. Hell Is A City (1961) is a racy police thriller that reaches a climax on the roof of the Refuge building, now the Palace Hotel. Alfie (2004) and Captain America (2011) are set in New York but used the Northern Quarter as a location, due to its similarity to Greenwich Village and parts of Brooklyn. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974) is a cult classic with some great city centre footage. Cliff Twemlow made films in Manchester in the 80s. Read the fascinating book about him by C. P. Lee. 24 Hour Party People is set in 80s Manchester but filmed twenty years later. The Iron Lady and Victor Frankenstein are recent projects but are not set here. That’s why after 55 years, ‘A Taste of Honey’ remains my number one as it’s a great story with wonderful characters and celebrates life here in the North. So come on filmmakers, it’s time for a modern classic movie to be made and be set around here, and I would like to be the stills photographer!

Staircase, Manchester Town Hall

Staircase near the Lloyd St entrance of Manchester Town Hall, completed 1877

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Palace Hotel clock tower 2003

Manchester Northern Quarter during the filming of 'Alfie'

Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter was turned into New York in September 2003 for the film ‘Alfie’.

Langley Buildings, Dale St

The Langley Buildings on Dale St have little or no modern additions, making them an ideal setting for a historic film.

Images along Manchester’s Princess Road – not Parkway!

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

Night view of the Hulme Arch and Princess Road looking north

First of all, let me get one thing straight: The name of Manchester’s main dual carriageway south out of Manchester city centre, the A5103, is called Princess ROAD, not Princess Parkway. This name is valid as far as the bridge over the Mersey, several miles to the south. Then for less than a mile it is Princess Parkway until Northenden Road where it becomes the M56 motorway.

Princess Road street sign

Princess Road street sign – Princess Road runs from the Mancunian Way to the bridge over the Mersey

Princess Parkway sign

Princess Parkway runs the short distance from the Mersey Bridge to the junction with Northenden Rd where the M56 begins

Unfortunately many journalists, councillors and members of the public are not aware of the correct name of this very important road, which they call ‘the Parkway’ or ‘Princess Parkway’. Princess Parkway was planned in the late 1920s as a separate section of the road. The name was approved by Shena Simon and it was intended to be an attractive, tree-lined avenue leading to the new suburb of Wythenshawe. In later years Princess Parkway was covered over by the M56 motorway and the junction to the north, with its slip roads.

I know about these things! I took a great interest from childhood onwards. Another point of uncertainty: Why is the highway named after a princess and who was she? No one seems to know!

Here’s the article that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Monday 25 January 2016.

Princess Road is an enigma. Manchester’s grand highway to the airport, Wythenshawe and the south was begun in the 1920s but only completed in the 70s. It’s a wide, busy dual carriageway, but designated A5103, more suggestive of a minor A road. It’s called Princess Road but which princess was it named after? People call Princess Road ‘the Parkway’ but only the section south of the Mersey is Princess Parkway. The route was to have been a motorway all the way into the city. That’s why buildings were demolished on the west side. Greenheys Lane intersection is very wide. This was to have been the junction of two motorways, but they never materialised. Offices, apartments, churches, Southern Cemetery and several educational institutions are next to it including the striking MMU Birley campus building. Another enigma is why the new Metrolink stop was named Withington, a place that to my reckoning is at least a mile away. In my humble opinion it should have been called Princess Road Metrolink stop. And so who was it named after? I believe it might have been Mary, Princess Royal and Countess of Harewood (1897-1965) but I can find no proof. Can anyone help?
Demolished Princess Road bus depot

Demolished Princess Road bus depot


Princess Road looking north from the Loop Line bridge

Princess Road looking north from the bridge over the former South Manchester Loop Line


MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme

MMU Birley building on Princess Road Hulme


"Withington" Metrolink stop

“Withington” Metrolink stop. It should have been named Princess Road

The Dublin suburb of Rathmines photos and impressions

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp

Houses on Palmerston Road Dublin with ornate street lamp

I’ve always been fascinated by the Dublin suburb of Rathmines. To English ears it’s a strange-sounding name. There are no coal mines in Rathmines, the name just means ‘Ring fort of Maonas’. To anyone who knows Dublin, the name in the past might have conjured up various images: ‘bedsit’, ‘dormitory’, ‘sleepy’, ‘students’ and ‘old-fashioned’. But today the words we might think of are ‘property’, ‘upmarket’, gentrified, ‘cosmopolitan’, ‘residential’.

I lived at Trinity Hall just to the south of Rathmines for two years as an undergraduate. I regularly took the 14 (now 140) bus along Rathmines Road and Palmerston Road. The area left a deep impression on me.

Rathmines is located in south Dublin, around two miles (3km) from the city centre. To get there it takes around 15 minutes on the bus from O’Connell Street or you can take the Luas tram to Ranelagh. Like many parts of Dublin it has a strong feeling of the past. Everywhere there are houses from the 18th and 19th century. There are relatively few modern buildings. It seems like a vast conservation area. There are some listed buildings.

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road at dusk 22 Jan 2016

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

Rathmines Road in afternoon sun 27 Nov 2004

The former Rathmines Town Hall was completed in 1898. In 1930, the township was incorporated into Dublin City. The town hall dominates Rathmines Road with its clock tower that seems too large in proportion to the rest of the building. Today it’s occupied by Rathmines College and on my January 2016 visit the clock was not working! Other landmarks include the imposing Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners with its large and distinctive dome. Like many Catholic churches it was in the past symbolic of the dominance of the Roman Catholic church. Now it seems to symbolise the opposite.

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004

Church of Mary Immaculate, Refuge of Sinners, Rathmines 27 Nov 2004


Rathmines Road is a busy street, long and quite narrow, with a variety of shops and supermarkets including Aldi and Lidl. The well-loved ‘Stella’ cinema is still there but it’s empty and has a ‘to let’ sign. In the centre of Rathmines, Rathgar Road leads off to the right and Rathmines Road Upper continues to the left. The post office is still there, and there’s a Tesco supermarket opposite. Tesco wasn’t in Ireland when I was at Trinity. There seemed to be few ‘foreign’ influences then. Nowadays you’ll find many people from other countries – women with headscarves, men with Middle Eastern accents. I stopped at the Carnegie Library, opposite the town hall, to check my e-mail. In the past it might have been full of people from other parts of Ireland. Today it was full of people from other parts of the world.

Rathmines is first and foremost a residential suburb. It has every variety of house from tiny terraced cottages to grand Georgian residences. There are impressive squares, wide roads, residential streets, narrow alleyways and tiny footpaths. Here and there there are modern apartment blocks but they generally seem to blend in with the 19th century edifices.

In the past many of the houses in Rathmines might have seemed fairly average and affordable for anyone with a good salary. Today, parked outside the houses, you’ll find expensive cars and SUVs with the current year on the number plate. Rathmines has become a place of great affluence. Properties are now priced beyond the reach of most people, even those on the best salaries.

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops

Rathmines town hall visible over rooftops


In my opinion the most impressive part of the suburb is Palmerston Road. It’s a wide nineteenth century tree-lined avenue lined on both sides with beautiful Georgian terraced houses set back behind gardens. The ornate street lamps date from the late 19th century. This area looks virtually unchanged for well over a hundred years and this is definitely a selling point.

Although Rathmines grew and developed into its present form during the 19th century ‘British’ period of Irish history, and had a Unionist (pro-British) majority until 1922, to me it seems to have an unmistakable sense of Irishness. I can’t quite explain it. It’s said that Eamon De Valera wanted to have the Georgian terraces around Merrion Square demolished as he regarded them as ‘foreign’. But he was wrong. This uniquely Irish style of architecture and town planning would have emerged no matter what the arrangements for Ireland’s government had been. Ireland became independent but the ‘British’ influence has remained and is part of the country’s unique character.

During the Second World War, Ireland was neutral, and so unlike British cities, Dublin was wasn’t bombed, apart from a few mistaken raids where the Nazi pilots thought they were flying over Belfast. Metal railings were never removed. In Britain most railings were needlessly cut out for the war effort and to this day have never replaced. The result is that Dublin has preserved its past much better than most British cities, and Rathmines is a prime example of this. You’ll see many wonderful, original iron railings in Rathmines!

My favourite place is Palmerston Park, situated next to my former place of residence, Trinity Hall. I often used to go for walks there.

Palmerston Park Dublin, 1981-2016

Palmerston Park Dubin, 1981 and 2016


It’s a beautiful Victorian park with lawns, a waterfall and tree-lined footpaths. Looking through the trees, at the houses, if you ignore the modern cars, you could almost imagine yourself back in the era of James Joyce or Oscar Wilde. That’s the great thing about a place with a strong historic character. The past doesn’t go out of date, quite the opposite: a place that has preserved its heritage is future-proof.

880 words

Architectural towers on the skyline of Manchester

Eyewitness blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

Lancaster House and Shena Simon College, the Manchester Colleg on the right

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News dated Thursday 14th of January, 2016. I have always loved rooftop views whether in Paris, Berlin or Manchester. I still have a vivid memory of the stamp that I discovered on a letter to my mother from her Polish friend, Janina Ciesielska. Though it was tiny, it seemed densely packed with architectural details. It depicted a mysterious idealised eastern European city but in my mind, I transformed it into Manchester. Prague, Kraków, Dresden and other central European cities have many architectural towers. Manchester has only a few but they are a striking and often overlooked feature of the city skyline.<
As a child I was captivated by a stamp on a letter to my mother. It displayed a tiny line drawing, packed with buildings and towers. I thought it was Manchester but then I found out it was a city in Poland. Manchester has architectural features on its skyline comparable with a grand city in central Europe, though there are not as many as in Budapest or Kraków. Overshadowed by newer, taller buildings, these ornate and beautiful structures are often overlooked. The towers of Manchester town hall, HMP Manchester (Strangeways) and Manchester University John Owen Building on Oxford Rd – all the work of Alfred Waterhouse – need no introduction, but what about the lesser known ones, at least in the eyes of visitors? The east tower of Manchester town hall is as impressive as many civic buildings in smaller cities and towns. Manchester’s classic architecture is a connection with Europe. It’s featured in the work of emigré painters such as Adolphe Valette and Georg Eisler. If you’re lucky enough to live or work at roof level you may be familiar with them. If not, look high above the rooftops! My next photo walk is on Saturday 13 February. www.aidan.co.uk

Sights along the A62 from Manchester to Oldham

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Seed sculpture by Colin Spofforth, Central Park Manchester

Here’s my editorial and photo feature on Oldham Road that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 7 January, 2016. It was the first article of the year. On Monday 4th, I took the bus to Oldham and then walked from the town centre back down the A62 as far as Failsworth. It was an interesting journey. On foot you notice a lot more than you do in a bus or car. I discovered the Music Rooms in Werneth Park, currently awaiting restoration, and the excellent statue of Ben Brierley next to Failsworth Pole It was created by artist Denise Dutton. There is history all around us, offering hidden stories and glimpses into a local area that felt very different in past times.

The A62 to Oldham is like a barometer of the times. In old photos we see a busy road, with shops, trams, industry and working class homes. Today it’s a post-modern mix of regenerated flats, new offices, and housing from the 19th and 20th centuries. Off to the left, Central Park is futuristic with its Metrolink stop and ‘seed’ sculpture. At the municipal boundary, Oldham Road becomes Manchester Road and soon we see the timeless tableau of St John the Evangelist church, the Royal Oak pub and Failsworth Pole. There’s a garden with a statue of the weaver and writer Benjamin Brierley (1825-1896). At Hollinwood we cross the M60 and the land rises. To the right is Werneth Park, where the mid-19th century Music Rooms are to be restored. From here there are magnificent views down onto the plain and over the West Pennine moors. On the top of the hill stands Oldham with its modern Civic Centre. The town centre offers an interesting mix of old and new. There’s always something new to discover when you go out and explore. Why not come on one of my photo walks, next date Saturday 13 February, full price £35, MEN readers, £25.


Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton

Statue of Ben Brierley by Denise Dutton


Failsworth Pole

Failsworth Pole


The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration

The Music Rooms, Werneth Park awaiting restoration


View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

View of the West Pennine Moors from Oldham Road,, Werneth

The fate of 1930s buildings in Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Kendals / House of Fraser

Kendals, now House of Fraser store on Deansgate Manchester completed 1939

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News that appeared on New Year’s Eve, Thursday 31 Dec 2015. In the first line I made a reference to the famous character Shrek and what he said to Donkey. Unfortunately the editors had to remove it! Presumably for brand usage and copyright reasons. Other than that the article that appeared in print is the same as here. The article has a sting in the tail, as I remember Library Walk, once a unique and atmospheric spot that was ruined in 2014 with the insertion of a clumsy and unnecessary glass cylinder.

As Shrek said to Donkey: ‘Ogres have layers!’ and so do cities. Their fascination lies in the many facets left over past decades and eras. The 1930s is an interesting period in Manchester but much of its legacy is disappearing. This year Century House on St Peters Square was demolished and the impressive 1930s facade of Bootle St police station may go the same way. The striking art deco Northcliffe House (1931) was taken down over a decade ago. Other 1930s buildings stand proud : Ship Canal House, the former Midland Bank, Sunlight House, Arkwright House on St Mary’s Parsonage. The former Kendals, now House of Fraser, was completed at the end of the 1930s, as was the Daily Express building. A year later, 75 years go, a firestorm rained down on Manchester that would change its character forever. But the inter-war period is still alive. If you look up, it’s as if time has stood still. One of the most precious things is when a corner is left untouched. This was true of Library Walk between the Central Library (1934) and the town hall extension (1937) , until a modernist style glass structure was placed within it, the controversial link building which opened in 2015. Let’s hope Manchester’s ‘layers’ remain in 2016 and beyond.
Century House St Peters Square 1 Oct 2012

The 1930s office building Century House overlooks Peters Square and helped to give St Peters Square a strongly inter-war character. It was built for Friends Provident, set up by the Quakers. It was demolished in 2015.


Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester

Arkwright House, off Deansgate, Manchester


Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Northcliffe House just before demolition and Sunlight House (left) 26 March 2002

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester

Ship Canal House, King St Manchester built in the early 1930s

The magnificence of Lime Street Station past, present and future

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished

Liverpool Lime St Station, August 2005 with office block, now demolished

Lime St Station is probably the best known and most used building in Liverpool. People from the suburbs and beyond take the train to Lime Street and so do those travelling from further away, such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and London.

There are two parts to Lime Street Station, the main line terminal at ground level and the underground station on the city centre loop line.

It’s not widely acknowledged that Liverpool Lime Street is one of the oldest stations in continous use anywhere in the world. When the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened in 1830, the terminus was at Crown Street to the east of the city centre. The site is now a green area. Lime Street Station opened for passengers in 1836. The present train sheds date from 1867 and 1879.

The view from the main entrance at the front of Lime Street is one of the most magnificent in any UK city, with St Georges Hall on the right.

This is the place where I meet the people who come on my photo walks, at the top of the steps outside the main entrance.

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps

Liverpool Lime Street front entrance and new steps, meeting point for my photo walks.

Inside the station near the front entrance there are two statues by Tom Murphy representing Liverpool personalities, the comedian Ken Dodd and the former councillor Bessie Braddock. They were unveiled in 2009.

The north train shed is fronted by an ornate former hotel. This was the North Western Hotel, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, architect of Manchester town hall. Now this building serves as as a residence for students at John Moores University.
Next to the former hotel is the impressive main facade of the station. For many years, this frontage was spoilt by a row of shops that stood in front of it. In the 1960s an office block – Concourse House – was built on the corner. It was typical of the 1960s that a modern office tower could be constructed within a few feet of a precious heritage building from the 19th century. It also cast a shadow on the front of the station for much of the day.

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night

Liverpool Lime Street Station at night with floodlighting.


In the 2000s, the building was demolished, along with the row of shops and a new area at the front was created with steps and ramps. It is magnificent and allows us to admire the magnificence of the architecture. It looks particularly good at night, when floodlighting is switched on.

Whilst the exterior has been beautifully renovated, the interior has remained less attractive, but in 2016 a new renovation is set to go ahead. The station will be closed for a period during the works.

I look forward to seeing the newly renovated Lime Street Station and to continuing to arrive and depart from one of the oldest and most magnificent railway termini in the world.

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 30 Oct 2003

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station Platform 8, 30 Oct 2003


Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St 27 Apr 2009

Virgin Train to London at Liverpool Lime St Station, Platform 8, 27 Apr 2009

Shadows and open spaces in Ancoats Manchester (MEN article)

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Marina, Ancoats Manchester

Marina, Ancoats Manchester


This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News in late 2015, along with a selection of photographs. I’ve been following the development of Ancoats, Manchester for many years. It’s a place with a unique history. It was the first urban industrial district in the world. It has a unique collection of warehouses and other buildings. Some lie inside the conservation area, others further south lie outside and many have been lost. Today Ancoats is developing but there are problems with the filling in of empty spaces.
Ancoats has been in the news recently due to objections to a proposed car park next to Cutting Room Square. Local residents say it will cast a shadow over the open space. It’s not the first time that buildings considered to be over-sized and out of place have been proposed in Manchester. A glass structure for Castlefield was rejected after a residents’ campaign. An apartment building in Northenden was found to be six feet too tall. Development means building and filling spaces, but when you do that, inevitably shadows are cast, sightlines are blocked. This 1998 view of the Royal Mills in Ancoats is now hidden by residential buildings. There’s no easy answer. In Berlin they like to leave gaps, maybe we should do that here. In another part of Ancoats, you’ll find New Islington Marina, a newly created stretch of water, a canal basin, with footpaths, trees and grassy areas around it. It’s very photogenic though there’s been criticism of it. You’d think you were a long way from Manchester and yet it’s just a 10 minute walk from Piccadilly. If you’ve not been to Ancoats recently it’s worth a look. You can explore the area on one of my photo walks More information at www.aidan.co.uk
Ancoats 1998 prior to renovation of mills and construction on neighbouring sites

Ancoats 1998 prior to renovation of mills and construction on neighbouring sites

Ancoats St Peters 1999

Ancoats St Peters 1999


Ancoats Card Room Square

Ancoats Card Room Square

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Manchester’s magnificent Old Fire Station – soon to be renovated

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

The Old Fire Station, London Rd Manchester in sunny weather

Over a period of many years, London Road Fire Station has been without doubt Manchester’s most magnificent disused building. Every day, thousands of people pass by it on the bus or going in and out of Piccadilly Station, but not everyone notices its faded grandeur.

To me it has been a potent symbol of Manchester’s failure to make the best of its architectural heritage. It was given Grade II* listed status in 1974.

At night I often visualise how it would look if its shiny, butterscotch-coloured exterior were illuminated by floodlights. There would be an upmarket restaurant behind the doors that were once used by fire engines. Inside the main entrance would be a hotel reception by the main entrance and there would be an art exhibition inside the inner courtyard.

The exterior of the Old Fire Station in afternoon sunlight

The best time to photograph it is on a sunny morning when the sun is shining from the south east along Fairfield Street, lighting both its main facades. It’s also possible to take it in the afternoon when the light reflects off the smooth, reflective surface of its tiles.

London Road Fire Station was built in 1906 around the same time as the Victoria Baths. The Victoria Baths is often called Manchester’s Water Palace. The fire station also looks like a palace but it’s devoted to another element – fire. On the exterior there above the door there is a frieze with women symbolising the elements fire and water.

Fire Maidens - sculptures on the exterior of the Old Fire Station

It served Manchester for most of the 20th century, including two world wars and the uncertain post war years.

It was vacated by the Fire Service in 1986 and most of the building has been empty since then.

Former owners Britannia Hotels had planned to redevelop the building but for various reasons they were unable to proceed. They were criticised for allowing the building to deteriorate, though I have heard that they carried out some work on parts of the building to prevent further damage.

In late 2015, the building was purchased by Allied London who have plans for restoration. Shortly after purchasing it, they announced a new name: ‘Manchester Fire House’.

The Friends of London Road Fire Station have been campaigning for long time to save and restore the building, and are said to be very happy that the building has been sold to Allied London. As I understand it, the Friends would like it to be restored as a combination of a hotel and perhaps an arts centre, with other possible community uses. Manchester City Council would like it to be re-opened as a hotel.

Manchester coat of arms Old Fire Station

Standing in the shadow of the Old Fire Station is the site of the building that from the early 70s to 2012 was the home of the legendary Twisted Wheel night club, famous for Northern Soul. Club nights took place in the basement with its arches, similar to the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

With their irregular facades, the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam. With the approval of Manchester City Council the buildings were demolished in 2012 to make way for a modern style hotel. In my opinion, they should have been retained.

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – Before

Site of the Twisted Wheel club - After

Site of the Twisted Wheel club – After

Scenic wonders along the A664 Manchester to Rochdale

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001

Misty sunset over Salford from Collyhurst 2001

Here’s my editorial and photos that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 17 September 2015. Recently I’ve been tutoring at a company in Castleton, the town that lies in the Borough of Rochdale to the north of Manchester. It’s not a tourist spot and yet it’s a very interesting place. I used to travel to the assignment by train but I switched to the number 17 bus, operated by FirstBus, as it’s cheaper and more frequent. I became interested in the sights along the way, and came up with the idea of an article showcasing the interesting sights along the way. I realised a sunset photo I took back in 2001 would be ideal for the piece, and presented it alongside some old and newly taken images.

Like spokes on a wheel, the main roads around Manchester extend to the surrounding towns. I like to ride on the top deck of the bus, observing landmarks along the way. This week I feature the A664 from Shudehill to Rochdale, around 10 miles along the 17 bus route. People may not think of Collyhurst as scenic, but this misty Salford sunset from Rochdale Rd railway bridge proves otherwise. Past Harpurhey on the left is a quaint Victorian post box, and down the hill on the right, mysterious Boggart Hole Clough. After Middleton Town Centre, look out for St Leonard’s Church on the top of the hill. The Rochdale Canal crosses under the A664 in Castleton, a town with a fascinating hidden heritage. Hopefully soon the East Lancs Railway will be extended to Castleton Station. As we approach Rochdale, we see Broadfield park, restored to its original glory a few years ago. Other attractions include the newly uncovered bridge and the Pioneers Museum. People need to open their eyes to the hidden attractions all around. Photography is a good way of doing it. Why not come on a 3 hr photo walk around the city centre? £25 for MEN readers, standard price £35. www.aidan.co.uk


Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester

Victorian post box Harpurhey Manchester


Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Gates to mysterious Boggart Hole Clough, Manchester

Middleton St Leonard;s Church

Middleton St Leonard;s Church


Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51

Rochdale Blue Pits Highest Locks no 51


Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower

Rochdale Broadfield Park and town hall clock tower

Here’s how the article looked in the Manchester Evening News, dated Thursday 17 December 2015. The headline reads ‘Bus journeys – A window to our worlds’. The headline, introduction and layout are done by staff at the Manchester Evening News.

MEN Thursday 17 Dec 2015

New squares in Manchester city centre – MEN Nov 2015

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Sadlers Yard newly created square in the NOMA district

Sadlers Yard newly created square in the NOMA district

This article appeared in the Manchester Evening News in late November 2015 and is on the subject of new squares in the city centre. It’s an example of how the city is constantly developing, altering and reinventing itself. Sometimes this process isn’t always for the best. Generally I like to keep the tone upbeat and positive, with some suggestions of my own and maybe the odd mild criticism.

Manchester is the city that likes to reinvent itself. One aspect of this is the creation of new squares. It happened in the past: St Peters Square came into being after the church was demolished over 100 years ago. Exchange Square appeared in the late 90s. Today in the heart of the NOMA district, a new pedestrianised square is nearly complete. They asked the public to choose names. I suggested ‘Co-operation Square’ but the panel chose ‘Sadlers Yard’. James Sadler made the first manned balloon flight in Manchester in 1785. In Spinningfields there are several squares including Irwell Square but I can’t find any street signs marking them out. Spinningfields Square is the open space by the John Rylands Library but the sign says ‘Spinningfields’. In the First Street area there’s Tony Wilson Place but I can’t find any street sign with that name, only direction signs. Here’s my suggestion for a new square: the open space between Motor Street and St Mary’s Parsonage. Why not call it ‘Motor Square’, or maybe some would like to call it ‘George Best Square’ as his boutique was there. If you’d like to explore Manchester and learn photography come on one of my photo walks: £25 for MEN readers. Gift vouchers available. More information on www.aidan.co.uk

Tony Wilson Place in the First Street district of Manchester city centre

Tony Wilson Place in the First Street district of Manchester city centre

Sign pointing to Tony Wilson Place

Sign pointing to Tony Wilson Place

Construction on Exchange Square 15 Sept 1998

Construction on Exchange Square 15 Sept 1998

Motor Street Manchester pedestrianised area

The pedestrianised area around Motor Street

Manchester CIS tower and one Angel Square building

Manchester CIS tower and one Angel Square building 22 Nov 2015

Greater Manchester’s forgotten bridges revealed

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral

 Here’s my feature on forgotten bridges which have been uncovered and restored or will soon be. I’ve always been fascinated by bridges. They have an aesthetic quality, they’re also historic and tell us so much about geography. Many bridges are buried under layers of development. A few have been uncovered and will see the light of day again.

We take old bridges for granted. Often we don’t even notice we are crossing them. Many lie buried and forgotten, but a few are being rediscovered. In Stockport, the 19th century Lancashire Bridge reappeared after many years. A section of the covering was cut away to reveal the bridge and river below. A similar project is in progress in Rochdale. The bridge remained out of sight from 1824 until last year. As part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project, the surface layer has been removed to reveal the river Roch and bridge underneath. I find it fascinating as it transforms the town by going back in time. In Manchester city centre, part of the medieval Hanging Bridge was revealed in the late 90s. It’s part of the Cathedral visitors centre. And down on the Irwell, one of Manchester’s oldest and most significant bridges has been partially hidden for over a century. It’s the Stephenson Bridge built in 1830 for the Manchester to Liverpool railway. The Ordsall Chord will have an impact on the Grade 1 listed bridge on the Manchester side but the works will also cause part of it to be exposed, a ‘consolation prize’ or ‘extra benefit’ depending on your viewpoint. Discover Manchester city centre on one of my photographic walking tours, £25 for MEN readers. More info on www.aidan.co.uk

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.

Rochdale Bridge and River Roch

Rochdale Bridge was uncovered in 2015 as part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project

Princes Bridge and Stephenson Bridge

Princes Bridge (left) and hidden in shadow, the 1830 Stephenson Bridge.

Rivers around Greater Manchester – photos & editorial for MEN

River Irwell from Cromwell Bridge, Broughton
Here’s my article and photos published in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday 10 December, 2015. During the previous days, record amounts of rain fell on the UK and Ireland, causing major flooding. Thankfully, Manchester was spared the worst. I decided to produce a photo-feature and editorial piece on the subject of local rivers. As ever I had to cram what I wanted to say into 200 words. Below are photos of rivers, including a couple of unpublished ones. Usually there is space for only four or five photos in the piece. The title and introduction were written by staff at the MEN.

Manchester’s waterways have played a big part in the way the city has developed – from ancient times and the industrial rvolution right up to the present day, when the flow of nature is still a powerful force.

Manchester is defined by its rivers. The three stripes on the City of Manchester coat of arms symbolise the the Medlock, the Irk and the Irwell, which forms the boundary between Manchester and Salford. In the 20th century, Manchester spilled south across the Mersey into Cheshire, reaching as far south as the Bollin. Around Greater Manchester we have the Douglas, the Tame, the Roch, the Etherow, the Goyt and many smaller streams such as Bradshaw Brook in Bolton and the Lady Brook in Stockport. Rivers are put under pressure when heavy rain falls, as we’ve seen in recent days. Not many remember the floods along the Irwell in Salford in the 40s and 50s. The Anaconda Cut, completed in the 70s, straightened out an elbow of the Irwell, allowing more water to flow. Levees were added to the Mersey as a protective measure, but there is still occasional flooding along Ford Lane. Rivers are places of recreation, where you can cycle, jog or do canoeing. I prefer to walk and occasionally stop to take carefully composed photos! I’m now taking bookings for my photo walk in the city centre, Sunday 13 Feb, £25 for MEN readers. www.aidan.co.uk

River Mersey flooding on Ford Lane Northenden, 6 Nov 20000

River Mersey flooding on Ford Lane Northenden, 6 Nov 20000

High water on the River Irwell by Regent Rd Bridge, Manchester city centre

High water on the River Irwell by Regent Rd Bridge, Manchester city centre

The start of the river Mersey in Stockport

The start of the river Mersey in Stockport

River Mersey weir and salmon ladder 30 July 2003 - not published in the MEN piece

River Mersey weir and salmon ladder 30 July 2003 – not published in the MEN piece

Source of the river Goyt in the Pennines

Source of the river Goyt in the Pennines

Heaton Mersey dusk image through branches

My thoughts on the resignation of Anton Corbijn from professional photography

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

Anton Corbijn exhibition Berlin

The celebrated photographer Anton Corbijn has announced that he is ‘bowing out’ of professional photography. From now on, photography will be just a hobby. This is according to an article I read on the Economist blog in November 2015.

The news coincides with a retrospective exhibition at the C/O gallery in Berlin. Anton Corbijn is famous for his portraits of rock musicians and actors. He has a raw visual style emphasising graininess and high contrast. All the photographs in the exhibition were taken on film and printed in the darkrom. Most are in black and white.

He has been active in photography since the mid 70s and went on to photograph U2, Joy Division and many others. I once met and shook hands with him in Manchester at the press conference for his film about Joy Division: ‘Control’.

He is one of the leading photographers of our era but now he has decided – apparently like many other less well known photographers – to give up photography as a profession.

But shouldn’t we take his words with a pinch of salt, like David Bowie’s announcement in 1973 that he would no longer be performing live?

I find it difficult to believe that a photographer as famous as Anton Corbijn can simply resign. I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of him or his photography.

But there is an important issue which is brought up in the Economist article. Photography today is very different from the days of film. That expression makes them sound like they are a lost era but they lasted for 180 years from the 1820s until we reached the ‘film to digital tipping point’ , by my reckoning around the year 2000.

Previously Anton Corbijn would spend days photogaphing a band. Nowadays the shoot is limited to a few hours. Photography is no longer a slow process, resulting in a small number of high value images, rather the opposite, or so it seems.

How does it feel to have grown up with film and then to witness the gradual takeover of digital? In my opinion although photography has become more convenient, it has lost its quality of exclusivity. Maybe that’s both a bad thing and a good thing.

Anton Corbijn’s exhibition is on at C/O gallery on the Hardenbergstraße Berlin, from 7 Nov 2015 to 31 Jan 2016.


The Economist: Anton Corbijn is bowing out of professional photography

Shaun Keefe ‘Guitart’ book – Available on iBooks.

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O’Rourke – Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest


Earlier this year I featured Shaun Keefe who has developed a highly individual style of art. It’s guitar art or guitart for short. He takes high quality photographs of classic guitars, prints them out and then adds colour in the form of paint, to turn them into striking artworks. Now he has released a book of his guitart on the iTunes bookstore. It’s full of these sumptuously coloured and lovingly crafted images of guitars, along with explanatory text and a foreword by Rupert Hine, musician, songwriter and record producer.

With their rich, saturated tones and detailed patterns and textures, these images come across particularly well on a computer screen. As you flip through the pages, the images fade or slide in and out, adding to the effect of an on-screen presentation, but it has the look and feel of a book that you could pick up and browse.

The price of Shaun’s book is £3.99 and you can sample and purchase it on the iBooks store:


Shaun Keefe produced the excellent image of Eric Bell’s guitar which appears alongside my photomontage of the Thin Lizzy co-founder. The images are used on the cover of his 2015/2016 album ‘Exile’.

Exile album front and back imagery

Here’s the audio slide show I did in early 2015 featuring Shaun Keefe’s images of guitars.

Featured photo: The Cloud (hill) seen over snowy Cheshire landscape

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke - Manchester, Liverpool, North West, photography, art, travel, local interest

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O’Rourke – Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire, photography, art, travel, local interest

The Cloud seen over snowy landscape in Cheshire

As I post this image, it’s the middle of winter in December 2015 but there’s been no snow yet! I decided to pick a featured photo from the archive with a snowy landscape. This photo was taken not far from Macclesfield, Cheshire on high ground not far from the village of Gawsworth. We are looking south east towards The Cloud – that’s the curved hill rising up in the distance.

This photo was taken on 31 Dec 2001 using the Nikon Coolpix 990, the first digital camera I owned that was good enough for day to day use. It’s a great camera, I still have it and it still works. Here is the exposure information:

1/344s f/9.9 ISO100. The setting was Program Auto, which is the best general purpose setting.

A shutter speed of 1/344th of a second is about two and a third stops above the standard 1/60th of a second.
The aperture f/9.9 is around one a third stops above the standard f/5.6
The ISO was at 100, one stop below the standard 200.
Therefore the light level in this scene is plus 2.6 above the standard.

Using this information you can work out any combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Exposure is very easy! I teach my unique approach to Manual mode on my walks and in one to one sessions.

Visions of old and new in Greengate Salford across the Irwell from Manchester

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke 

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate

Whilst massive new construction proceeds, historic buildings lie derelict in Greengate

One day in November 2015 I had an appointment on Bury New Road and I took a short cut across the Greengate district of Salford. I was astonished by what I found there. I’ve known the district over many years and remember seeing it from a steam train as a child. In late 2015 there is huge construction work going. Many of the older buildings remain including quite a few derelict ones. Sadly some have disappeared, including the industrial building with the words Greengate and Irewell 1950. An industiral icon of the post war period in Manchester that was demolished around 2004. I took a few photos – the light wasn’t very good – and put together this piece, which appeared in late November in the Manchester Evening News.

Last week, by chance, I took a short cut across Greengate, the district across the Irwell from the Cathedral, home of the restored war memorial featured in last week’s MEN. I remember Greengate as glimpsed from the window of a steam-hauled train carriage leaving Exchange Station: a grimy industrial quarter by the murky River Irwell, an area of small factories, workshops and chimneys pouring out smoke, watched over by a strange-looking brick tower – the tower of Strangeways prison. Today things have changed. Greengate is being transformed. A new mixed used development with state-of-the-art towers is under construction on the site of Exchange Station. Thoughtfuly, they’ve incorporated the bridge and sections of the walls. It’s part of the expanding city centre, now referred to as the regional centre. But as you explore the streets beyond you find a curious mixture of futuristic and faded. Point your camera one way and you are in 1950, shift a little to the right and you’re in 2050. Glitzy apartments stand cheek by jowl with derelict buildings. The most remarkable is Collier Street baths, an abandoned relic of the mid-Victorian era propped up by scaffolding. If this were Vienna, it would be a tourist attraction. When will we be able to say the new Greengate is ‘finished’? Not for a while yet.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.

The iconic Greengate & Irwell 1950 industrial building in 2003. It has since been demolished.

Abito Apartments Greengate Salford next to Manchester

The curved walls of Abito apartment building echo the shape of the abandoned building next door.



Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station

Greengate construction on site of Exchange Station

Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV - 1855

Stone plaque on Collier St Baths, the year MDCCCLV – 1855

Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

Collier St Baths 12 November 2015

Streets in Manchester named after famous people

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Mosley Street stone carved sign

Mosley Street stone carved sign


Street names can tell us a lot about the heritage of a place. Unfortunately most street signs in Manchester and the rest of the UK don’t have any information on the origin of the name and in particular the person after whom a street is named after. In France and Germany, there is often a smaller plaque with information about the person. In this article I picked out some street names with names of people and researched a little into their origin.

In France they love to name streets after historical figures. Above the street sign they provide a notice with information about the person. Maybe we should do that here. I’ve picked out a few in Manchester: John Dalton Street is a permanent reminder of the famous scientist who pioneered modern atomic theory. Whitworth Street is named after Joseph Whitworth, engineer and philanthropist. Mosley Street is named after the Mosley family, who were lords of the manor and prominent landowners. Oldham Street is named after Adam Oldham, a wealthy feltmaker. Jack Rosenthal Street is part of the recently created First Street district, home of HOME. He scripted many episodes of Coronation Street as well as one of my favourite sitcoms, The Lovers. Other streets around First Street honour Annie Horniman, James Grigor, Isabella Banks and of course there’s Tony Wilson Place. A section of the A6010 in the Bradford area of east Manchester was named after Alan Turing. The plaque commemorates the opening in Sept 1994 by Michael Meacher, who recently died. Kingsway was begun around 1928 and named after King George the Fifth. In France they’d probably call it “Avenue George-Cinq”. Hmm, I think we’ll stick with Kingsway!


Alan Turing Way next to Sportcity

Alan Turing Way plaque

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street

Jack Rosenthal Street, First Street

Kingsway Manchester

Kingsway Manchester


Mosley Street Manchester

Mosley Street Manchester


Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre

Oldham Street facades, Manchester city centre

Whitworth Street Manchester

Whitworth Street Manchester