Little did I know it at the time, but Tuesday 10th September 2002 would change my life, for that was the day when I took my first ever digital photograph. Just out of curiosity, I borrowed my Dad’s camera and took it to university with me to try out a few shots of the railway station. Photos of Bilston, Sutton Coldfield, Walsall and Wolverhampton followed over the next couple of days, and already I was hooked...
- University Station: The day it all began -
Those fledgling early photos look really primitive now. I hadn’t got any kind of eye for composition (some people would say I still haven’t), and the camera had 1.8 megapixels, a world away from the clarity and detail that today’s models offer. Nonetheless, something about recording a moment in time really appealed to me, capturing a memory of a location, an adventure – and it’s that same thrill that still entices me out and about a decade later.
I like the challenge of exploring places, getting into the local detail of knowing where things are, what they look like and how to get there. My initial focus on buses and trains has shifted over the years, and now its amenities that I probably focus on more than anything else – libraries, parks, and of course pubs. I became aware quite quickly that some of my photos, however imperfect they might be, could just have some kind of local significance if a scene changed. I remember taking a photo of the Richmond pub in Stechford in 2003 only to find when I returned that the site was now a health centre; there have been countless other examples of landmarks being consigned to history.
Looking back over ten years of photography, it has been fascinating to see how places have changed and developed, how fortunes have fluctuated. I didn’t know the West Midlands that well when those first photos were taken, and there are plenty of corners now that are still managing to escape my attention. Every outing has been a voyage of discovery in one way or another, and I feel that I have been enriched by all of the places and experiences that have come my way. From 2005 the photographs became the foundation of my online galleries, firstly at Fotopic and latterly on Flickr, whilst since 2006 my various escapades have been regaled here on the WME Blogspot.
What has changed in those ten years? Many things have, and many haven’t. Some places are barely recognisable from what they were – think of Rover at Longbridge for example. The transport network doesn’t seem any better off, with the Midland Metro still limited to one solitary line (albeit with a Birmingham City Centre extension to come) whilst the railway system has largely stood still where opportunities for local expansion remain on the drawing board. Bus stations have been rebuilt from rows of simple shelters into state-of-the-art showpieces, albeit becoming photographic no-go zones in the process. The bus routes themselves seem to have been curtailed and reviewed in an ongoing fashion, whilst the current fleet somehow doesn’t seem as characterful compared to my early trips on Metrobuses, Lynxes and breadvans. That’s nostalgia for you I guess, the rosy-coloured tint of the past.
The world can seem a more hostile place to the amateur photographer these days. I’ve had my fair share of paranoid drivers, suspicious landlords and officious jobsworths to contend with, but it should also be said these have been more than outweighed by some wonderful reactions where local people have stopped to chat, tell me a bit of history and even suggest other things I might like to get pictures of. Sometimes my favourite discoveries turn out to be happy little accidents that I find out about in precisely this manner. I will pause now to thank all of the people who have been involved in ten years worth of adventures, especially Stuart, Dad, Roger, Woody, D9 Andy, Stephen and Nick who have all had to show admirable patience whilst I chase after my next picture fix, or show restraint when the lens has been focused on them!
Ten years and several thousand photos have flown by so quickly, but I know I definitely wouldn't be without my camera now. Here's to the next ten!