With Lady Hughes working this Sunday I was at a bit of a loose end, so I decided to pop into Manchester and do a bit of street photography. The weather was great, sunny and warm, I had no agenda, so no pressure. I grabbed my camera and jumped in the car.
My favoured technique with street photography is that of the sniper. Pick your target, shoot quickly and then move on. What you’re looking for is a story, a glimpse of life, action, character, relationships. The trick is to find a subject and then capture what you’re after quickly before they realise. Once they know they’re being observed, people change, the moment’s gone. If all else fails, you can always shoot the environment.
I try not to be too intrusive and I do think about whether it’s right to take certain pictures – I try to empathise with the subjects and show some respect – well, most of the time anyway. If you’re going to stand on a busy street corner and start singing you’re really asking for attention aren’t you.
Starting at Piccadilly, I walked through Piccadilly Gardens and down Market Street to see the street entertainers. One group called the Piccadilly Rats were drawing a crowd but more out of morbid curiosity than admiration I think.
At St Anne’s Square there was a lady whacking a tennis ball on elastic, which made a great shot with the Victorian statue right behind her, but she spotted me and moved out of the way – spoilsport! Perhaps she didn’t have a permit and didn’t want to be photographed – who knows?
I stopped by the John Ryland’s Library as there was market, and I’d only taken about three shots when a security guard approached me to ask if the pictures were for personal use. When I said yes, he backed off, radioing my status to his controller. Walking on, into Spinningfields, I was challenged by another security guard, asking the same thing. He was very nice about it, but it became apparent that I was being watched – ironic, I suppose.
Apparently, the whole area is privately owned and the security guard explained that they get a lot of celebrities and football players so they are very sensitive about paparazzi. Well I didn’t see any celebs, not that I was looking for them. What I did see was lots of ‘beautiful’ people, head to toe in designer brands, relaxing in a spotless, designer environment, with a designer busker, on a designer performance area, fenced off by designer shrubbery under a designer marquee – time to move on I think.
On to Albert Square, Central Library and back to Piccadilly Gardens, where I met up with Lady Hughes, who had just finished her shift. We popped into Pizza Express, sat outside and watched the world go by over a couple of pizzas and drinks.
Piccadilly Gardens has always been one of those places I’d previously avoided to be honest. It had a reputation for dodgy characters and seedy goings-on, not helped by haphazard redevelopment and a lack of maintenance – the once lovely fountains are now filled with plastic flower containers to try and hide the fact they don’t work anymore.
But here in the sunshine, there were children playing, couples relaxing on the grass, families, Pokémon hunters, workers, pensioners, disabled people with their carers, teenagers, and even a busker – admittedly, she was bloody awful, but at least you knew she hadn’t been selected by a marketing department, to fit in with the colour scheme. It wasn’t exclusive, it was inclusive and no, I probably wouldn’t want to go there every weekend, but it was a damn sight more interesting than Spinningfields.