Phil Griffin was my favourite City Life writer – that Manchester magazine, when it was a magazine, was the first place I came across his elegant and highly personal architectural prose.
Griffin encouraged me more than anyone else to look up at a time when I had just begun spending long hours walking and thinking around the odd corners, long cuts and back streets of Manchester. Some people refer to this particular attention to architectural detail and the still-visible palimpsests of history as psychogeography – you can also think of it as possessing a rich and persuasive historical imagination.
Phil Griffin and Jan Chlebik have published a book combining some of Griffin’s existing writing and new material, alongside Chlebik’s beautiful and weirdly unclassifiable photographs of the city. I was lucky enough to work with Chlebik as the in-house photographer on the Chaos to Order residency last month. He’s a sweet and modest artist whose photographs seem to say nothing and everything about him at once. Manchester looks both strange and familiar in his images.
The book, simply called Manchester and published by Mancunian Books, is a very Manchester affair indeed – a peculiar, standalone, high quality art object of the kind that we should expect and pursue in the great cultural hub of England. Griffin’s eulogy for Anthony Wilson is here (“Let the city be his monument”), alongside tributes to Chinatown, perspectives on architectural minutiae, and up-to-date speculations on the impact of HOME. The writing is some of the best of its kind. Take this opening description of what to the average pedestrian might only be a pair of wooden doors mouldering in an underpass:
The writing is worthy of quality fiction. In fact, two made-up stories are included here too, The Cut and The Roaring Boy, and fit skilfully into the collection.
Chlebik’s photos show contemporary streets in a light that helps you see how they’ve always looked. Skylines are in silhouette, empty street corners are solarised, buildings are timelessly hazy. He loves rooftops and geometry and shadow. Manchester is sometimes alienating in Chlebik’s lens, and that’s because it sometimes is alienating.
Residents and visitors to the city should all be encouraged to see a copy of Manchester, to feel what comes out of equal parts love and dissatisfaction with a place, to see how strange a place it can be, what’s left of it, and whatever’s to come.
By Greg Thorpe
Manchester by Phil Griffin and Jan Chlebik is available to buy from www.mancunianbooks.com