When the Modernist Society invited photographers to make use of a cache of old slide films, they weren’t quite sure about the results. The task turned out to be a catalyst for some surprisingly refreshing architectural photography.

The slides, from the 1970s, were found discarded in a long bankrupt haberdashery shop in Timperley by long-time friend of the Modernist Society, Bill Mather. Legitimate fears that the film wasn’t fit for purpose, unusable even, were set aside and instead of chucking it out, a challenge was laid down to 22 photographers from across the UK and Europe to capture modernist buildings and scenes using this aged material.

#OutOfDate2022 is the resulting exhibition, on display at The Modernist in Manchester.

As might be expected, once some of the exposures had been developed, they showed nothing or very little. Some offer just a few hints of the subject the camera had been pointed at. Many of the images are grainy, and some are spotty, cast with pink blobs and turquoise splotches. Some are barely recognisable. But some are as clear as day.

The daubs and squiggles that emerged from the developing process don’t detract from these images, however. Indeed, in many cases these visual interruptions add to the texture of the photographs, reminding us that this stuff is almost 50-years-old and inviting us to look again at both the modernist buildings as subjects and at the process of capturing architecture in photographic form.

In places, it’s almost as if someone has added a filter to these pictures. But this is no social media digital treatment. This is the raw physics and chemistry of photography at work.

The resulting tone of these images is somehow nostalgic. As we peer at fine examples of modernism – the flyovers and apartment blocks, the cooling towers and concrete hotels – we’re looking at the clean lines and right angles that we expect of an exhibition brought to us by the Modernist Society. Yet that bygone feeling is also present in the surfers and coastlines, the alleyways and palm trees that some photographers chose to capture.

The exhibition acknowledges that this project was something of an experiment – one that certainly paid off and yielded hundreds of new images, perhaps with a different take on the subjects. Reviewing the resulting photographs, some exhibition curators would simply have selected a chosen few and left the images that were ‘damaged’ by the process – the over-dotty, the unclear – out of the exhibition. Instead, they decided to show visitors loads of images, rotating on a digital slide show, demonstrating the breadth of what can be achieved when you open yourself up to something new.

The endeavour is a pleasing departure from the overly precise, sometimes clinical, world of architectural photography. There’s something delightfully humane and happily haphazard about these pictures.

A few pieces are included in a new booklet, now available to buy. In part, this will act as a reminder of an intriguing experiment. And perhaps it will also inspire other projects to take similar risks.

By Steve Slack

Main image: Jack Hale


#outofdate2022 is at The Modernist Society, Port Street, Manchester until July 7, 2022. For more information, click here