“There are lots of lines to take photos of” — Ben Draguisky, photographer
BY Daniel Chapman
Manchester’s built environment is tightly woven from old brick warehouses and opulent, pink-tiled Victorian office buildings, and when we show friends the Northern Quarter we like to fascinate them about how it stands in, in films, for a kind of brownstone New York that’s hard to find in New York anymore.
It’s hard to find any traces of either trad architectural style in the photographs of Ben Draguisky, which is one reason why when we saw them we wanted to ask him about them. Ben lives in Didsbury and takes photographs around Manchester and Salford, posting them to Instagram as bpdraguiskyphoto, but his minimal style renders Manchester unrecognisable and, in that way, poetic and exciting. In a saturated Google Street View world, it’s thrills to be shown something we’ve not seen before; something new.
“Obviously a lot of the older buildings are absolutely amazing and beautiful,” says Ben. “But they’re more ornate; they don’t fit into the style of photos that I like or the style of design I’m interested in. It’s good to get a blend, but sometimes I prefer to look at the more modern stuff.”
Manchester’s riches are plenty for a seeker of Victorian warehouses, but Ben will instead divert from the motorway to explore the new metal warehouses of Hyde or the industrial estates near the airport; “Angles, lines, symmetry, trying to see interesting perspectives of things, maybe ways that people haven’t seen before.”
Bricks are allowed.
“There’s a set of warehouses that have opened up in Salford called Foundry. One photo I’ve called Bricked is of a big warehouse there that’s new; it’s been designed by Sixtwo Architects and I absolutely love it, it’s such a cool place.
“By using brick but with a modern design they’ve blended a bit of traditional Manchester style in a modern, sleek way. I love walking around there, it’s right by the river and catches the light really well, and there are lots of lines to take photos of.”
When we called Ben he was emerging from jetlag after arriving back from his honeymoon, with Nicola, in New York, and getting ready to sort through the photos he’d taken on the trip.
“The architecture was amazing, there’s just buildings everywhere,” says Ben. “But it’s quite difficult to take photos. I like to get them isolated where I can, or hone in on particular features; but because the buildings are so tall, and I use a fixed lens, it’s quite difficult to zoom to the architectural details that are maybe higher up the building or to isolate the buildings so that they’re on their own.
“Skyscrapers aren’t necessarily what I go for because I guess they’re probably the most photographed thing out there, when you look at cities anywhere. But when you’re in New York you can’t really help but take advantage of them being there.
“We went to Washington and saw the National Gallery for Art, and they’ve built a new east building. It’s amazing, it’s just concrete bricks basically and the lines you can find amongst it are fantastic, so I’ve got a series of photos there that I’m looking to work on, maybe get five or six of the same place together and make a little project on that.”
Ben’s inspired by Hufton + Crow, the photographic recorders of buildings by Zaha Hadid, and is following their thinking towards projects around individual buildings rather than one-off shots building by building. The Hollings Building in Manchester, aka the Toast Rack, is on the list; soon to be transformed, again with Sixtwo Architects involved, Ben took some as-now exterior photos and was invited in by the owners to shoot from the roof. “I’m keeping an eye on what happens and how that building translates into the modern design.”
And with a like-minded friend and colleague, who also posts to Instagram as Minimal_Manc, Ben used autumn’s sunshine finding the spaceship angles of the new buildings at Manchester Royal Infirmary.
“Do you remember towards the end of September there was a really hot day? I had the day off work so I was straight out there taking photos. We planned it and went down there together. He’s of the same kind of mindset. He looks very much for small details on buildings, pipes and things like that. I’m more about the architecture. But we’re very similar, and because we work together we talk about photography all day at work, we spur each other on and give each other a nudge or motivation to get out there.”
Although Ben’s photos are unmistakably architectural, exploring space and line, and although he can reel off buildings in Copenhagen, Rome, Rotterdam and elsewhere that he’d love to shoot — “If I could just follow Zaha Hadid’s building trail around the world that’d be amazing” — photography came first, and led him to architecture.
“It was photography that got me. I wanted to take photos, and I love landscapes and that kind of stuff — I’m originally from Sheffield, so I know the Peak District well. That was my initial thinking.
“But the more I started taking the more I liked looking at the abstract stuff. And the more I’ve looked into that and investigated design, the more I’ve liked buying interesting homeware and things like that, or more likely looking at pictures of stuff I can’t necessarily afford at the moment. Lots of Nordic design, looking at the way things are created, the shapes of pots or chairs or whatever else; you can find inspiration in that when you’re taking photographs of buildings. It’s weird, but it all has a link. It’s interesting stuff.”
And it’s not hard to find it expressed in the ever changing Manchester streets. Ben’s photographs, to us, seem concentrated squarely in the urban future, and his list of buildings to photograph keeps expanding to include buildings that aren’t even built yet.
“I look in the Manchester Evening News to see buildings that are being commissioned or are likely to happen, like around the Ancoats area and New Islington. There’s a lot of old brick buildings around there and it’ll be really great to see how they merge the two. I’ll keep walking around there and seeing what springs up, rapidly.”
And finding new lines of seeing of buildings we haven’t even seen, which isn’t just beauty, but service.
Originally published in The City Talking: Manchester — Issue 04