A personal view from photographer Stephen Iles: “…witnessing a metamorphosis”

25 10 2013

“For most of 2013 I have been visiting the Whitworth Art Gallery to take photographs during the re-development phase. The object has been not so much to document the changes, (although I concede any photograph is a document of the time and the place), rather the object has been to engage with the site in a more interactive way, seeing it almost as a living space or an organism. I am engaged by the idea that whilst the Galley is closed, Art persists. I suppose it’s the idea that Art is more than an object, it’s a state of mind, or a state of being.

It is as if the Gallery becomes an even more live environment in it’s state of dormancy, a place where memories seem to shout out loud when the contents have been removed. The curious thing is how the process becomes like looking for the ghosts of the Artists. Although ostensibly the environment is just a demolition and building site like any other, I have found the place to have a resonance that echoes it’s original and future purpose; it seems to be literally alive with artistic potential. Above all I am increasingly surprised how the language of art infects everything I see around me. Is this something that I bring with me and impose upon the surroundings? or is it the a presence within the building calling out for attention?

I tread lightly about the place, (not least because of the attendant dangers of a construction site and the watchful but helping eyes of the contractors!) looking, almost listening out for what the building has to say – a building laden with memories and hopes. I am careful not to make any adjustments to the surroundings, I’m not looking to construct a composition or to impose myself upon the situation; as much as possible I try to adopt a position of neutrality. The resulting images seem to concern themselves with notions of presence and absence, compositions arrive almost unwittingly, it is almost as if I’m conducting an archeology of where people last put things down, like some sort of compositional anthropology.

The chaos and energy of my earlier visits where the building was being torn apart and excavated is now evolving into a more ordered and serene phase, and the images I find start to reflect this. As I begin to photograph the office and administration spaces, a transition from the dust and debris of the Gallery conversion morphs into an environment of fragility and delicacy and a quieter energy begins to unfold. The images here are from my last visit and I can see changes taking place not only to the building but to my relationship with it, the whole process is like witnessing a metamorphosis”.

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To see some images from the first visits I made at the beginning of the year you can check this link:

To see the images I have made from the Tetley building in Leeds, currently being transformed into a gallery space by PSL [Project Space Leeds] check this link :




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