Ishmael Armstrong introduces his response to the creative brief, and how he was inspired by the Rylands’ digital collections:
I was initially unsure about what to do for my project but after having a look through the library’s digital collections I found a collection that took my interest. It was a collection of 6 images of prominent public buildings in and around Manchester from the 19th century. This inspired my idea, to go to these sites and see what they look like now compared to then.
I then decided to find six contemporary buildings with similar roles to compare architectural styles from the 21st and 19th centuries. To add another layer, I had the idea to photograph each building on black and white film as well as digitally, to compare imaging techniques too.
Planning the shoots
The planning of my shoot was very simple and presented in a way where it would be quick to do and easy to understand.
For the courts (which are no longer around) I found an old map with the footprint of the building on it and lined it up with the current satellite view of the area from Google Maps. I was then able to work out where the photo was taken from.
For the Royal Exchange I found a different image of the building from before it had been altered which featured the tower in it. I was then able to work out which side of the building the image I was recreating was shot from.
For the Town Hall I already knew where this building was so all I had to do was go onto Google Streetview and work out which angle the shot was taken from.
For the Cathedral I did the same as I did for the Town Hall, only this time I could tell that the angle was too low. So I added some other images of a ledge which would in theory be at the correct height.
The Barton Arcade was quite simple to find. Since it’s quite a small place it was very clear where the image was taken from and at what level. I just added some images for reference.
Since this building was a bit further out of town I added a satellite view of its location as reference to where it is. There was no street view that you could see the building from so I would have to find the composition on the shoot.
For the modern buildings I didn’t have to do as much planning as the historic ones because I know where all of these buildings are. So I just added reference images of each building and spent a minute or two to find a good angle to shoot from to save a bit of time on the shoot. I chose the Manchester Civil Justice Centre, the Arndale Centre, the Football Museum, Deansgate Towers and Beetham Tower.
The final images
For the shoot I mapped out all of the buildings I would be shooting and worked out the shortest route between all of them. On the shoot I brought my Canon 6D to shoot the digital images and my Bronica SQ-A loaded with Ilford FP4+ @ 50 ISO to shoot the film images. Shooting the digital images was fairly trouble-free because of the flexibility of shooting digitally with a zoom lens, whereas with the film, I only had the standard 80mm lens which wasn’t wide enough for a number of the shots. To get around this I ended up taking multiple pictures of the subjects and combining them in Photoshop, leading to a sort of hybrid workflow. I also chose not to shoot the Football Museum because I couldn’t get a composition I was happy with.
After the shoot I also perspective corrected the film shots in Photoshop to match the effect of the original images that were taken on a camera with bellows. I really like the way the final images came out, when you look at them, especially side by side: it really highlights the differences in the formats used to capture them and also what has changed at the sites in the last over a century.
As a team we were really excited to see Ishmael’s project grow and develop. We were impressed by his detailed research and planning and the consideration as to how he would execute his photographs.
It was interesting to discuss the results with Ishmael and look at how all of the different images – the historical images, the research and planning images, the digital and analogue – all told slightly different stories about the architecture, place and time.
We were really impressed and intrigued with Ishmael’s scanning and image collage techniques. I think they visually demonstrate a part of the creative process which is normally hidden to the viewer. The distortion that occurs in the perspective-corrected black and white scans also tells a story about how we view images, and how we view the world. For me, these images speak as a metaphor of how we currently live and exist in a distorted digital world – at odds with physical connection, not quite isolated but some things aren’t as they seem.
Well done Ishmael: we were blown away by your photographic eye – you are a real talent and we look forward to seeing what you do next.
You can follow Ishmael’s photography work on Instagram: @ishmaelarmstrong_photography
In the final Digital Collections Internship post we will reflect on the impact this programme had on the participants and on the Imaging team, and we will share what our next steps will be.