Sometimes I feel like to be a photographer in Birmingham is to focus your photography mainly on the city centre. It seems like there is an almost constant arms race to come up with the next great shot of the skyline, the Library, or any of the other famous icons of central Birmingham. While there is nothing wrong with this as there are so many new angles and views of the city to discover, it sometimes feels like the suburbs rarely garner the focus of our various lenses. Birmingham is a city of great suburbs where the majority of the population reside, yet I rarely see images from them on the IGersBirmingham hashtag. From Harborne to Erdington, and Balsall Heath to Boldmere, they all have their own uniqueness which is sadly not often caught on camera.
That was my thinking on Thursday night last week after a very long day at work at my office in Milton Keynes. During the regular drudgery of my commute back up the M40 I couldn’t help but notice how clear the night sky was. I wanted to get out and do something creative after the tough day I had endured but I knew my late arrival home would not allow me the time to get out into the city centre to take some shots. The clear night sky suggested perfect conditions for some long exposure photography but time was against me. That was when I decided to scrap my usual destinations for such photography, Digbeth, the city centre, the JQ, and instead chose to try it out in my home neighbourhood of Moseley.
Despite my 8 years living in Moseley, I had never gone out with my DSLR to shoot it. This was ironic given that #moseley was the first hashtag I actually ever used on Instagram to find other local photographers when I first joined the platform in 2011. It’s often said that we overlook what is right under our noses in favour of the attraction of something we do not have. For me that was very much the case with my own suburb, often I would limit my own opportunities for photography through my obsession with shooting in the city centre. Little did I know how much content was available in my own neighbourhood, and how much enjoyment I would get out of shooting on my doorstep.
Upon arriving home at around 7.15pm, I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and headed out. I jumped in my car to drive the half mile into the centre of Moseley from my flat (yes I am that lazy sometimes!). I already had a few ideas in mind of where I could set up for a long exposure but you never know if the composition will be as good in real life as it is in your head. First point of interest, the view across the yellow box towards Cafephilia. Cafephilia is a cool little independent coffee shop on the corner of Woodbridge Road and Alcester Road. Housed in a traditional Victorian street corner structure, this coffee shop has a vintage appeal to it with its curved windows that flows from the Alcester Road to the Woodbridge Road side in a series of sweeping panes. In the right light it is reminiscent of Edward Hoppers famous Nighthawks painting from 1942. I set up on the corner of Alcester Road and Chantry Road and started shooting. Being just after rush hour, the traffic was fairly slow moving which made it hard to get a clear set of light trails crossing the steamed up windows of the busy coffee shop. Perseverance paid off in the end with a couple of clear shots with nice clean light trails adding to the image.
Next to fall under the focus of my lens was one of my favourite pubs in Moseley, The Fighting Cocks. This popular pub, which resides in a fantastic building dating back to the 1800’s, was recently refurbished giving it a more modern feel. I set up on the opposite side of the Alcester Road between two parked cars and starting taking long exposures in portrait. Given my new highly central location, I expected to get a few comments from passersby, however not a single person raised an eyebrow or said a thing in my direction. I was surprised at this because seeing someone out in Moseley with a tripod set up is not a common sighting!
After getting a few more shots of the Fighting Cocks set against the clear night sky, I headed over to St. Mary’s Row to get some shots looking back down the Alcester Road. By this point the cold was really biting but I wanted to grab a few different angles from the benches on the triangle so I kept on despite the cold. My perseverance was rewarded with a couple of shots with perfect light trails, some going up St. Mary’s Row, and the trails of the number 50 bus passing.
I had one last destination my mind before heading home, the Moseley cross roads where Salisbury Road meets the Alcester Road. Setting up by the Baggaley Chemist, I took a number of shots looking back towards the former Bulls Head pub, now the Cuban Embassy bar. Getting the timing right with the lights was tricky given the stop start nature of the traffic at the junction, but in the end I got a shot that captured both the lights of a truck driving up the Alcester Road and the cars waiting to turn right down the same road.
Glancing down at my watch I noticed I had only been out for one hour, but in that one hour I had managed to get a decent number of good shots in a very small area. At this point I decided to let the cold win and so I jumped in the car and headed home to a warm coffee and a night in front of my iMac editing in Lightroom.
Two things struck me by this solo outing.
Firstly, I was surprised I had not done it before! Moseley proved to have some really great content for photography which worked really well at night. Secondly, I was a little bit shocked by how little attention my activities garnered from the local population. I set up in some very open and public locations but not a single passerby gave comment or took notice of my activities.
Next time you’re planning on going out to shoot, why not look a little closer to home rather than heading out to the usual haunts of the city centre. Regardless of where you live in our city, you never know what you might find on your doorstep!
Words and images by Fraser McGee