Capturing the beauty and ugliness of Manchester’s secluded urban spaces is all in a day’s work for photographer Andrew Brooks .
He’s developed a reputation as one of the region’s foremost urban explorers. From rooftop views to underground canals, his work captures the forgotten spaces of Manchester. A darker side to the city that most people don’t realise exists.
“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,” says Andrew. “There’s a whole hidden world out there for everyone to engage in.”
“Each location has its own challenges for getting good access. Nearly all of the time access is with permission. I work alongside writers and curators and we are always looking out for contacts who might be able to get us access to places that are interesting. Then we ask and try and be helpful to them for taking the time to let us in by letting them use the images or promoting what they are trying to do.”
There’s something mysterious about what lies beneath and finding Manchester’s secret underground locations is often all the inspiration he needs for many of his photographs.
This picture was taken beneath the streets of Manchester inside the Salford Junction canal tunnel. This runs between the canal basin outside the Bridgewater Hall and the river Irwell, joining the river close to the old entrance to the Granada Studios Tours.
We accessed this area through the Great Northern Warehouse, beneath which there is a canal port where the boats mored and delivered goods to the mill above. This tunnel was also used in the 2nd world war as an air raid shelter, with 100’s of people sleeping down here every night.
The wall in the distance in this image is a blast wall, these were built along the tunnel every 25 meters so that if a bomb did land on the tunnel then the blast would not send a wave of compressed air along the whole tunnel.
This is along the River Medlock where it runs underground through a culvert not far from Sports City. It was a beautiful thing to photograph. Even though it was never built to be seen the structure was so elegant, it almost felt like being within a large sculpture.
I created the project with curator Andy Brydon and it was shown in URBIS in 2008, we had the support of some of the cities Urbex community who helped us find and access these sites, toward the centre of this image is one of the explores who showed us around and let us know about why they visit these places.
This is inside one of the towers of Manchester Town Hall. It is the old records of the city stored in the tower that you can see from St Peters Square. I loved photographing across the whole building, but this area, with it’s strange dusty light and crumbling papers really drew me in.
Along the river Irwell, close to the Manchester Cathedral are a number of arches the sit under that end of Deansgate.
If you cross to the other side of the river and look back you can see them. Again these were used as air raid shelters in the 2nd world war, and also a gents toilets which was closed in the 1980’s.
These places are pitch black, so I bring in my own small single hand held camera flash which I use to create hundreds of images which I bring together digitally to full these places with light for the first time in many years.
This image shows one of the tunnel systems that are along the sides of the valley around the town center of Stockport.
This is the Mersey Tunnels which are accessible to the public through the visitors center. There are around four other tunnel systems along the valley, all of which were built into the sandstone to work as air raid shelters during the 2nd world war.
Thousands of people could sleep in these tunnel every night.
As a photographer I think it’s important to document the changing city. Right now there is so much development across all of Greater Manchester including this area in Rochdale.
This image is from beneath the streets of the town where the river Roch used to run largely hidden from view. Over the last 4 years the river has been uncovered and is no longer hidden along the whole length of the town center.
As well as the river being hidden there were also some beautiful stone bridge that are now visible for the first time in many years. I plan to head back to this same spot very soon and document how it looks now.
Andrew has spent the last ten years creating a series of layered snapshots of imaginary worlds entitled New Worlds which have received critical acclaim.
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 ability to find hidden locations around Manchester and create new worlds makes his talent extremely unique, but it’s his passion that makes them so compelling.
A free exhibition at the Portico Library from 7-22 July 2017, part of the MANIFEST 2017 festival, will feature many of Andrew’s hidden spaces works.