The view from Bank Top: Craig Easton’s images of life in Blackburn | Photography


Craig Easton not often tells the themes of his images how they need to pose. “I really feel that my portraits are items which can be given to me by these I select to take footage of,” he says. Take Mohammed Afzal, an abattoir employee with a ardour for pigeons: “I’d seen the loft on the again of his home, and I’d knocked on his door to ask if I might {photograph} him. The fifth or sixth time we made an association to do that – I saved turning up, however he was all the time out – he’d simply obtained house, and he was nonetheless in his work package. I believed to myself: that is nice. However who am I to say how he ought to look? He needed to get showered and altered, and in the tip I used to be happy that I didn’t impose myself on him. It’s his image, and he seems simply as fabulous in his pristine tracksuit prime and denims.”

Afzal seems in Bank Top, a sequence of images taken by Easton in Blackburn in 2019 and 2020: images that, in flip, had been initially half of Kick Down the Barriers, a undertaking instigated by Blackburn Museum and Artwork Gallery to problem well-liked misconceptions of the city. “Kick Down the Obstacles was a response to a Panorama programme that requested if Blackburn is essentially the most segregated place in the nation,” says Easton. “Folks had been fairly upset – it was so simplistic – and a sequence of artists had been invited to look extra carefully at its communities.”

Mohammed Afzal with his pigeons in one of several cages he keeps on the tiny back terrace of his house in Johnson Street, Bank Top.

Easton, who lives in Wirral and whose images usually should do with the illustration of northern communities, determined to work in Bank Prime, a largely working-class space in the west of the city. “I simply beloved the topography of it. It felt like house. It’s on a steep incline, and there are these rows of terrace homes – they’re outdated mill-worker cottages – which can be very acquainted to me, coming from Liverpool. I walked round, and I chatted to individuals, and as I did, issues turned tighter and tighter: all the photographs are shot inside about 500 yards of one another. What’s extraordinary is that inside this tiny group there are such a lot of totally different experiences, backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures. It’s an entire world.”

Muhammad Ayub outside his second-hand shop on Johnson Street

Easton collaborated with an area author and researcher, Abdul Aziz Hafiz, whose textual content accompanied his images once they had been exhibited in Blackburn (the 2 males now hope to do a e-book collectively). However he all the time shot alone. “I work with an enormous, outdated Fifties digicam,” he says. “It’s on a tripod, and it takes me an age to arrange, so I’m very seen. However individuals are curious – and once they get to speaking to me, they discover that I’m interested in them, too, so I’m welcomed. I attempt to deal with individuals as people. I don’t need them to really feel that I see them solely as consultant of some explicit kind of particular person.”

Bank Prime, he quickly realised, has modified down the a long time so much lower than outsiders may think. “You will get the whole lot in Bank Prime! We’ve began speaking, because of the pandemic, about how in some locations, individuals have come nearer collectively. However in Bank Prime that by no means went away. Folks store domestically. They converse to 1 one other. There are three or 4 butchers, 4 or 5 greengrocers, a hairdresser – simply in these streets. They’re companies which can be largely owned by south Asians now, so it’s totally different to 40 years in the past, in the sense that, because the older individuals will inform you, there are fewer pubs. However in each different approach, it’s solely the possession of these locations that has modified.”

A number of of the photographs in this sequence are landscapes: a minaret rises above the massed ranks of terraces, without delay incongruous and completely at house; an outdated mattress lies mournfully in an alley, wanting nearly human, someway, as if it had fallen down drunk after an evening on the tiles. Listed here are historical ginnels and deserted factories, streets turned quickly into cricket pitches and entrance doorways saved for finest. Largely, although, they’re of individuals, whether or not they’re praying or selecting cherries, getting ready a chin for a shave or watching their washing go spherical in the launderette.

Reverend Herrick Daniel, who galvanised the community to buy the Co-op building and turn it into a church

“I used to be particularly in photographing the younger males,” says Easton. “As a result of younger Asian males get such a horrible press, and that’s so flawed. The lockdown had simply ended, and so they had been having fun with being exterior. We talked about how the Asian group had been invited initially to return to Blackburn to save lots of its textile trade [in a brief postwar boom, workers were needed], and about how, when that trade was later decimated, all of the work went again to Bangladesh. So these youngsters had been out on the streets, sporting garments made by individuals in Bangladesh that will as soon as have been made in Blackburn by their mother and father. I started to see a form of connectedness in the whole lot.” In Blackburn, issues usually are not, he says, all the time what they appear. Contemplate, as an example, Afzal and his pigeons: “Everyone knows pigeon fancying is a northern, working-class factor. However what I discovered is that it’s additionally an enormous pastime in Punjab. There are such a lot of layers in these footage.”

Folks nonetheless come to Blackburn from the world over. “The church is fascinating. It’s an outdated co-op constructing. A man from St Lucia raised the cash to purchase it. A Nigerian congregation makes use of it now, and a Russian one. I photographed a lad there who’d actually come from Ukraine simply the day earlier than: the church was his level of connection.” In the meantime, the Muslim group is constructing a brand new mosque: “It’s going to be huge – an indication that the group is on the up.” In {a photograph} taken in the present mosque, notices on prayer mats warn worshippers to remain socially distanced. “That was taken simply earlier than they had been allowed to reopen, and it was a approach, for me, of taking a look at this othering, this blaming, that was happening. There was all this discuss of Covid hotspots, however it was very clear to all of us that these had nothing to do with ethnicity; that it needed to do with deprivation, and the varieties of employment individuals had been in.”

Three generations of the Williamson family inside and outside their home on Johnson Street, Bank Top

These images have, I believe, an oddly timeless high quality, and never solely as a result of they’re shot in black and white (you’ve by no means seen brick and slate look so gorgeously silvery). The story they inform is an outdated one. Arrivals are nothing new: in the Industrial Revolution, individuals from rural areas got here to the city. However they join, too, to the photojournalism of the previous. They remind me powerfully of the sort of images I used to see in the Sunday dietary supplements as an adolescent. “I suppose that’s why I’m a documentary photographer,” says Easton. “I hope they’re not only for at present. You need to file society [for the future].”

He was “shocked and shocked and delighted” to be named general winner of the Sony world photography awards final week. However the work itself is, I believe, extra essential to him than any prize. He’d wish to tour the Bank Prime sequence now; to take it out right into a world that’s more likely to be pondering fairly arduous in regards to the thought of group. “Segregation and integration are these phrases that get thrown about on a regular basis,” he says. “However what we discovered was a spot of congregation, and that’s the story I wish to inform.”

The Sony World Photography awards 2021 digital exhibition, documentary and free e-book obtain can be found through See extra of Craig Easton’s Bank Prime images at