Our cities are often bissected by rivers, and around those waterways the evolution and changes can be seen most starkly: grand architecture stands alongside sleek, modern design; old engineering alongside new. ‘The North East is going through a lot of development and change, particularly in its cities,’ Stanley-based photographer Scott Read says over a crackly phone line. ‘There, below the surface, you’ve got the old buildings and back streets. It’s an interesting contrast between the old and the modern, and it’s all developing.’
It was this evolution of the cityscape that drew Scott, who is traditionally a landscape photographer, to pick up his camera and point it at the more everyday occurrences that happen in our streets. He’s doing so for two reasons: partly, because as a new arrival to the North East two years ago from Swindon, he reasoned it was a good way of exploring the area he had just moved to, but also because he wants to throw some light on an area of our lives that often goes unnoticed.
‘I think most people now are working long hours and go to their jobs on autopilot,’ he says. ‘They walk past these tiny little back streets that are the foundation of their city and don’t even know they’re there. It’s all right on their doorstep, and they don’t even know it’s there.’
The rapid pace of development in cities such as Sunderland, Durham and Newcastle is eye opening for Scott, whose upbringing in the new town of Swindon is a world away from the ever-changing North East urban landscape. ‘I think the cities in the North East are very different to those further south,’ he says. ‘Although you’ve got the development going on all over, some places embrace the heritage and make a thing of it; some don’t.
‘There have been a lot of changes already,’ he says. ‘It seems like development in the North East is accelerating all the time.’ But while the time, attention and money is being placed in the shiny new high-rises that dot the horizon, the long-standing side and back streets – romantic places from the past imbued with decades of history – are left behind. ‘Change is inevitable,’ says Scott, ‘but I think it’s a real shame when real heritage gets lost at the expense of that development.’ His photographs capture the left behind areas; the boarded up and painted over windows, the once-great buildings that emanated from the pen of the likes of John Dobson and were built by Richard Grainger, left to flounder while the newer buildings grab the limelight. The process of capturing the images was a learning process for Scott, who discovered the rich history of the region’s grand architecture along the way. But as well as keeping the North East’s architectural history alive, his work also captures the change in the wider society happening in these cities – and the changing population, too.
‘I know that the people from the area are very passionate about it, but inevitably when you’ve got a bit of a development boom you attract people in from outside who don’t take the time to learn the history and get a real feel for what is the heart of the North East,’ says Scott. ‘They view it as if they’ve just moved up here to work, rather than wanting to make a home.’
But Scott hopes to change that with an exhibition, These Streets of Ours, which cleverly captures those seemingly forgotten ginnels and back roads. Out of the 300 or more photographs he’s taken of our city’s streets, around 30 will be displayed at Arts Centre Washington. He’s hoping that those who have memories of the community – or simply want to be part of it, even as it mutates and evolves – will be able to take something from the pieces on display.