Manc of the Month: Not Quite Light

Dusk and dawn can be quite eerie times in Manchester, the quiet before the storm, the still before the mayhem. Simon Buckley of Not Quite Light really does capture that in his images. He has a great eye for seeing the streets, the way he see’s the light of dawn and the dark shadows it makes, he creates real atmosphere in his photographs. We see similarities to the 1930’s analogue night photography that Brassaï captured of Paris, and also the work of Rut Blees Luxembourg, who photographed the desolate urban landscape of London at night. This is why he gets the title of May’s Manc of the Month. He has a way of making us see things, that we likely see every day, in a totally different way.

We also picked Not Quite Light as our Manc of the Month because of the huge event on later in May, 17th – 20th. The ‘Not Quite Light Weekend’ will run across Salford, this is to coincide with an exhibition launch at The Lowry Hotel.

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Simon Buckley: ‘I will be exhibiting the current body of work at The Lowry Hotel from the 17th May until July, and there will be over 24 different events over the weekend of 17-20th May. I’ve commissioned musicians and sound artists, and there will be concerts, art events and guided tours. It’s the most ambitious thing I’ve done, and so I hope tickets sell!’

Click on the poster above for more information about the event. But before you do that, read our interview with Simon below, where we find out more about him and his work. And if that isn’t enough to get you excited, then there’s even talk of unicorns! Enjoy!

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Cotton on MCR: How would you summarise your style of photography? 

SB: ‘I’m not sure I would be able to summarise my way of taking photographs. I photograph mostly at dawn, and so I have to have an acute sense of light, shade and colour, as there is so much subtlety in the morning at that time, as night leaves. I’m probably more influenced by painters than photographers, as there is a lot of structure to my composition.’

CO: How do you think the city changes from the dawn/dusk to day time? 

SB: ‘People behave differently at dawn. Most people don’t want to be on the streets at that time, and they often seem to look down at their feet, rather up to the unfolding glory of daybreak. I like the aloneness of dawn. The buildings have different personalities. The city is theirs, their shape is distorted in shadow, they even can seem more powerful. I often feel a real sense of disappointment when the street lights pop off, and often I can be indifferent to the rest of the day. By dusk, people have had their day, they are more joyous to be out on the streets. And you can see the approaching darkness. A sunset is much more predictable than dawn.’

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‘I’m interested in the notion of transition, of the restlessness that comes with time and the daily evolution of life. The Not Quite Light project was born of a nagging need to explore cities’ regeneration, to further understand what was happening to the places we live and work in. I’m drawn to being alone on the streets, with the solidity of buildings. Each dawn, it feels like I’ve stepped through the back of the wardrobe, and am in a magical place, a place not quite familiar anymore.’

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CO: Do you have a favourite area of Manchester that you like to photograph? 

SB: ‘Not Quite Light was conceived in Angel Meadow, and I’m still fascinated with that area. My current version of NQL, “From Trinity To The Crescent” looks at Salford, down Chapel Street and the Irwell. I live in Salford and love photographing a city so rich in history, and one that is more apart from Manchester than people realise.’

CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene? 

SB: ‘Manchester and Salford feel very vibrant at the minute. The regeneration of the city centre has pushed artists out into new areas, and that seems to have inspired a great deal of creative activity. Manchester and Salford have always been places where you get on and do stuff, without waiting for someone to say “yes”. It’s like one giant Petri dish, with so many people experimenting with new ideas. I’ve been in this city for most of my life and it’s never once bored me.

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CO: What was your career path – did you study photography? 

SB: ‘I did study photography, but learned most in my time as an assistant to an architecture photographer when I left college. I had to work with the old plate film cameras, where you put a hood over your head, so I gained a real sense of my craft early on. I then did exhibitions in Hong Kong and China, got noticed by an agency and ended up doing documentary and portrait photography for magazines such as Elle, Der Spiegel and the Saturday Telegraph magazine.’

CO: What camera are you currently using? 

SB: ‘I’ve always photographed with Nikon cameras when using the 35mm format. I used to photograph with a Hasselblad too. I now use a Nikon DSLR, and one lens. I’ve never been interested in photography equipment. It’s simply a means to an end. Like a knife and fork to help me eat.’

CO: How has your work developed over the years? 

SB: ‘I find it difficult to answer the question about how my work has developed over the years. In effect, the question is more “how has life experience changed your way of seeing?” The camera is merely a mechanical device. The real photography takes place in the heart and head, and one’s ability to communicate that which has been witnessed. I think I’m wiser now, and wish I could apply what I now know about life to the photographs I took when I was younger.’

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CO: It is unusual for a photographer to create audio podcasts, can you tell us more about them? 

SB: ‘I call myself an artist, not because of wanting to be pretentious, but because I don’t want to feel restricted in the way that I express my ideas. There are so many stories to be told, and a camera is just one way of doing that. I suspect more and more people who would have been labelled photographers are beginning to think the same way. We’re buggers for pigeon holing people in this country, and that is stifling, I think. I love doing my podcasts, telling tales from the half-light. I’ve had to start from scratch with the learning how to do them, but have really enjoyed the challenge. I’ve got 2 or 3 yet to edit and loads of ideas I want to record. I’d like to spend more time doing them, perhaps more so than taking pictures. People are endlessly fascinating.’

CO: Do you have a favourite of your own photographs/one that you are most proud of? 

SB: ‘Cliché though it is, I always think I’ve still to take my best photograph. I find it hard to judge my own work. However, I took a photograph last year at dawn, whilst staying on Dartmoor for a few weeks. It was a white horse, absolutely still in the gossamer light just before sunrise. For a second it looked like a unicorn and I enjoy the magical, fairytale quality of that picture.’

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CO: Where do you get your inspiration from?

SB: ‘I don’t look at that much photography, as I worry about absorbing other photographer’s ideas. I like William Eggleston and Saul Leiter very much. Also John Bulmer’s book “The North” is great. I actually prefer to look at books of old travel photography, and postcards from the 1950s and 60s, with their odd colours and formality. I think Julius Shulman, who photographed in the mid-20th Century was a wonderful artist.’

CO: If you could go back in time and meet one person, who would it be and why? 

SB: ‘I’d love to go back and meet the woman or man that invented the wheel. I’d love to know why it took so long to create such an obvious thing, and then ask her / him what impact it had on her / him and those around. Did life feel dramatically different, or mostly the same, but with wheels.’

CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be? 

Anything my kids have painted, that suggests they’re happy.

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There are more images of Manchester and Salford on the Not Quite Light Instagram.

And find out more about Simon Buckley and Not Quite Light on his website.

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