Peter Bobby, High Rise I. Photo courtesy CUBE Manchester
Lisa Beauchamp goes to the Centre for the Urban Built Environment in Manchester to find out about the work of their photographer in residence, Peter Bobby, who has been exploring the uppermost floors of Manchester's most prestigious buildings.
Peter Bobby is currently artist-in-residence at the Centre for the Urban Built Environment (CUBE), Manchester and in a one-off lecture on January 30 2006 he gave an insight into his practice and presented a selection of some of his works in progress.
On show were ten large-scale colour photographs taken from the top of some of Manchester’s tallest and most exclusive buildings. Looking out of the windows of these high-rise constructions, the photographs capture the appearance of the ‘rooms at the top’ and the view of the city’s skyline beyond.
The photographs have a clean-cut yet seductive appearance that references the new obsession with high-rise buildings and the promotion of a corporate luxury lifestyle. Bobby finds that most of the rooms at the top of the buildings he photographs are either corporate reception areas, conference rooms or restaurants which he calls ‘rooms to impress.’
Accordingly his photographs suggest the hierarchy rooted in these types of buildings. However, they are not purely about the buildings themselves or the cities in which they are situated, according to the artist (and even though people do not usually feature in his photographs) his work is all about people.
Peter Bobby, Hilton II. Photo courtesy CUBE Manchester
Bobby says he is concerned with the way people use and manoeuvre around particular spaces and how the construction of that space may impact on our behaviour. For example, when travelling up to the top of a building do we immediately walk to the window to look out at the view and ignore the room’s interior? Or vice versa? How might the layout of that room impact on our behaviour?
By raising such questions, Bobby’s photographs ask us to think about issues of access and control and our own self-performance as occupants of that space.
Bobby uses the term ‘non-place’ to try and highlight the tension that exists in the spaces he photographs. He is not saying that a non-place is something negative but in his photographs he attempts to highlight the conflict, aesthetics and seduction of these spaces and how they might affect our behaviour.
The subject of access is central to Bobby’s work. He talks a lot about the difficulty he experiences as an artist trying to gain access inside the buildings he photographs, because access is only given to certain people.
When looking at the photographs it is difficult not to get swept away by their magical appearance. As we imagine entering this space we feel a sense of privilege and escapism from the chaos below. However, the photographs keep us at a distance and the viewer is denied the opportunity of identifying with these spaces.
Peter Bobby, High Rise II. Photo courtesy CUBE Manchester
The view of the outside world in his photographs is contained and we can often only see the top of the skyline or the tops of buildings. He doesn’t allow us to visually recognise the buildings outside and denies our craving as viewers to be let in. As Bobby says: “We are looking out of the window but we do not know what we are looking out to.”
Bobby is often asked why he doesn’t photograph shabby or run down high-rise buildings. As a fine art photographer, he believes that it isn’t always necessary to show an alternative side to what he sees. By photographing the clean cut and fashionably detached, his photographs highlight the isolated nature of these spaces and the lifestyle they are attempting to sell.
As viewers of these photographs we cannot help but think about the perfection at the top of these high-rise buildings compared to the mundane reality of the streets down below.
CUBE is an Architecture & Design Centre based in the heart of Manchester, dedicated to broadcasting the ideas and issues that lie behind the buildings and spaces that make up our built environment.