Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Moth Among The Floodlights

The 5th of January 2008 was probably my most brazen and possibly foolish trespass to date. Since my last visit to the Greenway side of the site, two new temporary buildings had been erected: though they looked rather as if they had simply been plonked down on the surrounding mudscape; and a moat of sorts dug between them and the fence - which was now a murky puddle. That evening the lights still shone in some floors of the buildings, and beyond them, across old Marshgate Lane was a large floodlit area which was still, after dark, a hive of activity. I had my sights set on the temporary bridge that now spanned the Channelsea River, providing access to a narrow strip of land between two canals that I had not been able to visit since before the appearance of the blue fence. Although towards the stadium site was a sea of orange swirling lights, the traffic didn't seem to be venturing down to the bridge, getting to it however was always going to be tricky.

Over the fence and quickly along the embankment that flanked the swampy trench, here I was exposed - in view of the buildings, the road and probably the workers on the other side. Reaching the roadside I paused, briefly out of sight, head twitching nervously around, down beneath the Greenway bridge from which the dreaded dog-unit-land-rover could appear at any time, it did not and I scuttled across the road, into the full glare of the floodlights and threw myself among an uncomfortable heap of broken bricks. I lay still, catching my breath and surveying the territory. From here I could see the bridge and a quick dash would get me across it, were I to venture across though I would have no choice but to return by the same route, and being on the bridge itself I would be far more enclosed than ever before. Fear of being cut-off from my escape route made me pause and consider lighting. Over the bridge, darkness prevailed, and even with a minute long exposure I would struggle to get a clear image, but here, where I was now cowering the area was bathed in stark light, even a twenty second exposure might suffice.

I glanced up toward the source of the lights and could pick out a number of portacabins and a few workmen or security guards silhouettes mooching about, I would have to be careful. I looked around, searching for a composition amongst the rubble, a spot where I could set up the camera and tripod in safety and then dart into the open at an opportune moment, timing now was everything. Propping my tripod amongst the concrete boulders and glancing up and around anxiously, I prepared for a first attempt. I had planned where I would stand in the frame but the pose I ended up striking (and have since often emulated) was a product of pure fear. As the thirty seconds ticked by slowly in my head I could see people going about their nightly business, and was stood in the bright glare of their lights. I was dismayed to find the resulting image burned out across its left hand side.

I spent the next twenty or so minutes scampering like a hunted rabbit around this small triangle of territory, most of it hunched out of sight in corners, trying to calm down, but also managed to get two of the most vibrant photographs from the whole project to date, thanks to the sheer wattage of the lights. In the second of these I resisted the paranoid leftward stare that resulted from this particular evening's events. This image, shot on the site of the old artist studio building demonstrates a key irony of the project as a whole. Whereas in 2006, my entry to this site was prevented by the razor wire that now litters the foreground and the CCTV, whose signage remained intact, the fence in the background now granted access evenly across the whole site.

I poked my head up too fast from what must have been my fifth hideout tonight, and as I did so saw a silhouette's head in the distance swing round in my direction. We must have briefly looked directly at one another before adrenalin and instinct took over, hurtling me back across Marshgate Lane to wards the fence. I made it just in time. I was within a few yards of the fence by the time the Land Rover pulled up close to where I was spotted. I briefly imagined being chased by man and dog, my trouser leg snatched between canine jaws as I tried to get my leg over the fence, but that most only happen in cinema, they could see that I was out of reach. As I jogged along the fence back to my entry point the vehicle swung road and drove back to its base, parallel with me, separated by a wide patch of canalside wasteland.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Cutting Edge

The scene opposite the burnt out shell of the last post proved too enticing a proposition and the very next night (my camera tells me this was the 18th November 2007) I was back shinning up exactly the same tree, but this time with my sights set on the towering, tumbling concrete structure which flanked the railway lines. Now half-torn, lights glared straight through its exposed structure. Back-lit by electrical blue. This particular semi-demolished state appears to have near universal appeal, not only among those like me that routinely seek and find beauty in such scenes, but across a broad sweep of the population. I once watched two towers of council housing being blowndown by controlled explosion and witnessed the tangible, audible even, elation among the crowd at the site - perhaps the fascination with shredded concrete stems from the same urge? It was this stage of the process that the official imagery peddling chose to represent the 'demolish' part of their DIG.DEMOLISH.DESIGN slogan: "the world tallest building muncher, a veritable celebrity among plant machinery, has been specially shipped in from the continent to complete the job", accompanied by pictures of the thing in action, jaws spread, rubble flying. I felt I had to at least try to put a different spin on this stage of the process.

I wasted no time getting to it, I had no intention of investigating the site any further tonight, this single building would do just fine. Entry was as simple as always of late and the ground between fence and target was clear and unguarded. Two pairs of the much-lauded munching jaws were at work on this building, the first I came across were at rest, their diplodocan neck curled downwards, nose touching the ground, the backdrop being as it was: four open storeys of unravelling towerblock, the blue hued lights from the railway tracks creating a cold interior glow; I could not resist performing what would be my final plant cuddle, imposing some human scale on this scene. Pneumatic grease smeared my jeans once again and I jumped down and scuttled into hiding.

Inside most the of building remained intact, including stairways and a vast amount of metal racking which arranged in obedient ranks across whole floors, the remants of epic clothes storage? a production line? I could not tell. I tried clambering around the frames, freezing for shots, but none of them really worked, still the interior provided not only good cover but a vantage point from which to spy approaching guards so I continued exploring. I tried a few shots in the buildings interior, but quickly realised that it was the frayed edge of the building: the point at which building becomes rubble that was of interest. Walking around to the side of the block I found the spot at which another muncher was breaking through the walls, it's jaws left locked around four inches of reinforced concrete, but from the vantage point of my portable tripod this intrusion was indistinguishable. Peeking out of a nearby window I spotted a security guard returning from a lone foray down to the fence, torch in hand. I ducked out of sight until he's passed and decided to call it a day.