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Worker Bee: meet Andrew Brooks, the Manchester photographer

Essex-born photographer Andrew Brooks came to Manchester over twenty years ago to study Documentary Photography at Stockport College. He archives the beauty of our city through his atmospheric and painterly photographs of buildings, cityscapes and landscapes. Taking inspiration from paintings from the Romantic era, his composite photography builds form, depth and rhythm through hundreds of layers of photos to create re-imagined new views of the world.

His Hidden Manchester exhibition at URBIS (2008) explored local historical spaces and buildings with which the audience could interact. Angelic View (below) is taken from this collection. His landscape of the Hope Valley in the Peak District won him the Greater Manchester Arts Prize in 2016.

What got you started in your field of work?

A general interest in visual arts, movies, cinema and especially sci-fi. After studying, I spent about seven years learning the skills I’ve needed over the past ten years for my own work.

Who have been the biggest influences on your work?

I don’t really look at other photography so much. Some of the Victorian paintings in Manchester Art Gallery, especially English Romantic painters JMW Turner and John Martin influence my work. Because my images aren’t capturing one moment like other photographers, and the images are constructed or built, my work is much closer to a painting.

What is your proudest achievement so far?

As well as winning the Greater Manchester Arts Prize last year, existing as an artist for the past ten years and being able to support myself doing this. Whether it’s commissioned pieces, teaching, or personal stuff, it’s all in my style and not a compromise which I’m really proud of. Images with real impact.

What does your typical day involve?

I’m up early with my three-year-old lad. Two days a week I head out to a shoot, sometimes to the countryside, with a map and my camera. Then I work from home, an audiobook and Photoshop. Some evenings I teach and give talks. My hours are flexible and varied, but I tend to work about five days over any hours in the week. Last week I did a dawn shoot that needed setting up at 3am.

And how do you relax on your days off?

Anything in nature with my wife and son. I grew up in the countryside and want him to see that. We go for walks in the Peak District and places like that.

What is the best advice you have been given or can give?

Try to get to a stage where you trust your own opinion and don’t need to go to others for approval. Once you gain the skills to get there and know yourself what’s good, then you’re away.

If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?

I used to pack bananas in the summer. Luckily, I’ve found a job that sits with the way I see the world so hopefully I won’t be returning to that.

Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear

I can Cossack dance (limited moves). It got my wife’s attention anyway.

Red or Blue?

I came from a football mad family but think it skipped a generation with me.

Name your three favourite places in Manchester

Hulme Hippodrome, a beautiful old theatre that’s falling to pieces. And I love photographing the rooftops of the city, as you see across Manchester from such a different perspective. Also Manchester Art Gallery is a beautiful haven in the city.

If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?

I wish there was more access to old buildings and points of historical interest here so people could see an alternative to the prescribed version of Manchester. There’s a whole hidden world out there for everyone to engage in.

And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?

Manchester has so many layers. It’s an old city with a new bit on top. It’s dynamic. And it’s growing. I love following the pace of change. It’s a great place to document.

Catch Andrew’s work in a stunning new solo exhibition at the Portico Library this summer. For more information visit his website.

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