Photographic Project Development- The Castlefield Viaduct

Michele Selway

 Image by Michele Selway, Castlefield Viaduct, 2012

The Castlefield Viaduct is a structure that represents a key time in industrial history. It is also clear that it polarises opinion, some seeing it as an obtrusive structure which overpowers the Deansgate/Castlefield area, others, as a beautifully designed structure.

The issue is complicated and this has caused an impasse, allowing the bridge to decompose. However, it is the growth of wildlife and forces of weathering that I am keen to explore as a part of this project. Through my creative workshops I have gained some valuable contacts, including; MOSI, Manchester Museum, local botanists (Chorlton Meadows), architectural companies (BPD), galleries (Cube & the Castlefield Gallery) and writers and photographers.

The research that I have done surrounding the ‘Castlefield Viaduct’ shows my enthusiasm and dedication to this topic, allowing me to draw together the history and current state of the bridge with my own way of working.

I am eager to use the new skills I have learnt and intend to continue learning, one being a two day course with John Brewer, focusing on cyanotypes, gum prints, wet-plate and maybe collodion paper.

My work is influenced by that of Stephen Gill, particularly his use of objects in profound ways to create a layered effect, sometimes connecting these objects and materials to the place he is documenting and other times, ironically polarising the two to make a statement involving the environment or to draw ones eye to a theme within his work.101025_brighton-stephengill2_p465


Stephen Gill, untitled, “Outside In” 2010

“Stephen Gill is emerging as a major force in British photography. His best work is a hybrid between documentary and conceptual work. It is the repeated exploration of one idea, executed with the precision that makes these series so fascinating and illuminating. Gill brings a very British, understated irony into portrait and landscape photography.”

Martin Parr

I have also looked at the work of Raoul Kramer and the way he combines the history and importance of “The Lost Track” with current photographs of the disappearing lines, creating an archive of the past, present and future prospects.

Similarly to Kramer I want to get people looking at the bridge in a way that they haven’t before, so I feel blowing my final images up and creating an installation piece of art would attract people to it as they commute past it everyday. Ideally, if I can get permission, from the BRB, I feel my work would thrive from being appropriately displayed on the bridge itself. Enriching not only the abandoned viaduct with a new lease of life, whilst displaying its history along side it’s current life, but also enriching the local community with a piece of history that is so easily forgotten.

For something so huge, it is also neglected. The Metro runs along side it, there are hotels and bars all around it and people pass it everyday, probably unaware of it’s rich history or beauty in its current wild, abandoned state.

It is therefore important to archive the bridge now, as I believe that the post industrial dereliction and the invasion of nature are as an important phase of the bridges history as its more functional past. I think it is vital that something so iconic, a grade 2 listed building, is documented throughout its life and I would love to play a part in this.

In effect, the bridge, in its isolation, has become a “green reserve” and this may provide us with ideas of how to use the bridge in the future. It has been colonised by various grasses, ferns, trees and other wildlife, which is in contrast to it’s sterile, industrial past.

My recent trip to the Manchester Museum, Herbarium Department, inspired me to think about the possibilities of working with the botanists there in recording the life thriving on the bridge in its ignored and neglected state, as a wider form of documentary than the purely artistic one I initially envisaged. I am intrigued by the history of the Manchester Botanists, who met at pubs geographically near to the bridge at a time very near to its construction and whose tradition and achievements may be explored through a botanical study of the bridge now, which may lead to the bridges preservation and suggest a role for it.

A seaweed collection, Manchester Museum, Herbarium store.

IMG_0983 (1) IMG_0971 (1)


I intend to gather together my collection of old cameras and begin experimenting with both film and camera less photography. Whilst creatively practicing my techniques and processes, I will contact the British Railway Board with my proposed ideas and hopefully gain access to the bridge. The next stage will be to arrange a meeting with Dave Bishop president of Chorlton Meadows and arrange for a botanist to identify some of the specimens I have collected. These collections will be made into a book, similar to the collections of pressing stored at the Manchester Museum in the herbarium department. I will also use some of the specimens to contaminate my photographs, by using the juices of the plants in the developing process or by placing parts inside my camera as I photograph the bridge. I will also try leaving both film and prints on the bridge to be exposed to the conditions that the bridge is exposed to.

With a large bulk of my research already started and a good selection of networks already in place, I am ready to begin technically experimenting right away. I will however need at least four months to work on my projects, pulling all my themes and ideas together to accomplish a cultured and visually enriching piece of work.

Cost wise my project will initially be self funded, buying old film on ebay and using cameras and equipment I have already accumulated, however I do intend to discuss possible funding with the Castlefield Forum, Railway Heritage Trust and the BDP, who are I hope are determine to draw attention to the bridge to gain approval and funding to achieve the proposed plans for the ‘Hanging Garden’s of Castlefield’.

My collection of cameras.IMG_0903 (1) IMG_0902 (1)


Furthermore I plan to experiment with processes similar to that of the artists involved in ‘Shadow Catchers’, one being Susan Durges. I would like to experiment with using the natural night sky and exposing photo sensitive paper (perhaps the length of the viaduct) over a long period of time (possible a number of hours or all night), allowing the stars and moon light to develop an image on to my paper, making a trace/outline of the steel structure from a angle which hasn’t been seen before.

Photos by Susan Durges.


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