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All change, yet again.

I was in Birmingham last week, the city of my birth. And just to remove any confusion, I’m talking of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England.

Every time I visit there has been change. The city seems incapable of standing still for just one minute. Perhaps that’s how it should be, afterall, Birmingham is known as the driver behind the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19thC. and was for many years, the home of manufacturing in the UK earning it the aphorism of “The City of a Thousand Trades”.


The replacement for the NatWest Tower climbs skywards

It’s not an old city. Its growth, fed by the industrial revolution, came as a result of hundreds of thousands of ‘immigrants’ from the farming communities in surrounding counties. My own forebears on both sides were “Aglabs”, agricultural labourers, from Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, together with true ‘immigrants’ from Ireland. Birmingham is a crucible, and always has been.

With that growth comes continual change. As a reason for change, added to that of growth, is development – in the shape of technology, working methods etc.

All of this stamps its mark on the city, its bricks and mortar and its people. Nothing here seems permanent. I myself worked on a new depot for Birmingham City Council’s Public Lighting department back when I left school in the early 60’s. It was built on the site of demolished inner city houses. ( curiously, only recently I discovered some of my forebears lived in the very houses demolished for that project). That development, constructed in the early 60’s was itself demolished in the first decade of the new century and has been built over.


The now demolished Nat West tower

The new pictures show a development currently underway, just near to the Council House in Colemore Row. It is going to be a 20+ storey office block. The site it’s being built on was a 20+ storey office block! – Birmingham’s own NatWes Tower. Confusing.

However, as you can see, not all of the cities old buildings are being flattened. Birmingham college of art remains. A glorious reminder of the skills of designers and artisans past. Long may it, and more like it, stand against the march of mammon and the banal lego architecture eroding the quality of our cities.

November 2019.

Our rosy coloured past. Hmmm.

This picture is of a house in front of one of the gas holders at Saltley Gasworks in Nechells, Birmingham. The image was taken in the late 60’s.

I was born just a couple hundred metres from here, within sight, or more accurately within ‘Smell’ of the gasworks. My dad worked there after he came back from fighting with the Desert Rats, Montgomery’s 8th army, in second world war. What’s more, those gas holders were nearly the death of him. He fell off one and survived, but that’s another story.

This image is a picture of my youth. Although my parents moved to the newly built council estates out in the suburbs, many of my relatives lived in or around this area. I would return often as a child.

What this image made me think about was just how much of a product I am of the social and political thrust occurring after the 2nd world war.

I am the product of the time and of the policies of Labour, the  political party in power back then.

  1. The massive growth in public housing after the war.
    We moved into a new council house in the suburbs around 1950
  2. The start of the NHS. 
    I was born in 1947. The NHS was born in 1948.
  3. Improved public education.
    Aged 11 I attended one of the early, purpose built Comprehensive Schools in Birmingham.

Therefore, I have the Labour Party to thank for providing me with improved living conditions, better heath care and better education. All of these steps forward were by the people and for the people.

Compare that to the flagrant self serving attitudes and policies of the current Millionaire Tory Elite and their Billionaire Backers.

What you see evident in the picture, and in the events of my life, is seemingly so deeply attractive to the Leave Party and all other Brexit believers that they wish us to be plunged back there.

For me it’s hard to understand why anybody would hold those days so lovingly to their breast? No. I’ve lived it. For millions of us it wasn’t rosy coloured with “Land of hope and glory” playing in the background. It was hard.

Lastly, whatever this present Tory government want to achieve will be directly contrary to what will benefit the real people of this country. Tories. Their lips are moving. They are lying. Run in the opposite direction, it’s a safer direction.

Peter Barton
October 2019

A note to the artist.

I visited an exhibition of photography in Hull yesterday – 5th October 2019. Amongst the work there was a large display devoted to the work of Tristan Poyser. In this intriguing piece Tristan explores the concept of the Geographical / Political border between Northern and Southern Ireland.

The line has been a contentious issue for many years and with the Brexit issue (where Southern Ireland will stay in the EU and Northern Ireland – being part of Great Britain – will potentially leave the EU ) inflaming debate once more. Tristan travelled the line over a period of a couple of years photographing as he went.

Unlike County and National lines in, say North America, the lines are not straight, twisting and winding as they do. Tristan handed out images he had taken and asked people to rip the images along where they thought the border may be. The effect was to produce a large number of public interpretations of the border, many annotated with what they thought about the connected issues.

The main part of the work is a series of Tristan’s images, large, ripped and re-mounted to indicate just where the border travels.

For me the exhibition raised so many issues about art, politics, geography and particularly the corrupt politics of todays world. I wrote to Tristan. You can see my note below.

The concept is excellent. The work is excellent.  It makes you think. Go visit.

I saw you and your show yesterday (Sat 5th). I believe the true judgement of a show is not necessarily the immediate impression you get whilst in the presence of the work. No, it’s about how it stays with you afterwards. 

I’ve thought about your show a lot since I left. Your exhibition made me question the issues of the Irish border and Brexit itself, particularly the act of a country divorcing itself from what what is has (always for some)  known. It’s akin to the tearing in half of photographs after a divorce. And like the rips in your pictures around the convoluted Irish border, where does that rip go around the children of the marriage?

That, I believe, is what children born after the UK joining the EU are, children of the marriage. And, like in a divorce, they are out of place, lost, deserted and changed forever, corrupted and, unforgiving – as I’m sure the politicians will discover to their shame and cost.

You work awakened me  to the  cleft developing, not just geographically but Geopolitically. In addition far from uniting the country, as has been spouted by Brexiter’s, that cleft will be felt in interpersonal relationships, for generations to come. How very sad. 

And all this in the hidden name of moneymaking plutocrats. Even sadder.

Those who call those of us who wish to remain “Remoaners” may soon discover they should be more correctly calling us “Re-told-you-so’s”. We shall see. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

You can see the work here on Tristans web site , but the show itself is so much better.

Peter Barton



Note.Copyright of the image at the head of the page rests with Tristan Poyser

Perishing shrines

Work by Lisa Ross.

Lisa Ross is a New York based artist. Her work in this exhibition shows images of holy sites of its indigenous Muslim Uyghur population in the Taklamakan Desert in Xinjiang, western China.

Black-Garden-Crib-with-Door-2009The exhibition is beautiful. Any pictures of the show, even those on the gallery website, and my small attempt by way of illustration of the elegant basement of the Argentea Gallery above, fail to portray the glorious reality of the prints. They exude a quality of light which is mesmerising.

As a photographer I stood in front of the images admiring the sheer technical expertise of the photographer and of the printer. If that is all you go to see this show for then so be it. You will not be disapointed.

However, these are not chocolate box or even travel images. There is another aspect to the images. They document part of a way of life of the Muslim population of this part of China which is under threat, indeed these shrines no longer exist and access to the area is strictly controlled.

For me the shambolic, though elegant, nature of the construction of these Sufi spiritual sites counterpoints the sharp regimental precision evident in China’s military parades. It’s two faces of China. Politics aside, it’s sad to see old ways wiped out by the march of the new. It’s work like this which captures the old ways so eloquently which provide the balance I believe a country needs.

Every country needs faded glory. 

Go to see this exhibition before it too, is no more.

October 2019

The show is currently running Until 2 November 2019

Argentea Gallery
28 St Paul’s Square
B3 1RB

Opening times

Tuesday – Saturday: 12:00noon – 6:00pm

But check web site here for opening times as there are occasional changes…

Add perspective into your life.

In her own words. One woman’s life, and what a lesson it is for us all.

“I am not sure of my exact year of birth but I think I should be around 66 or 67 years old. 

I was born around here, near Dharamsala,  and lost my mother as a child, I was raised by my stepmother. Later I was married at the age of 15. I lost my husband at the age of 24, to some unknown sickness due to stomach pain. 

I moved back to Dharamsala from my inlaws place after the death of my husband as I faced a lot of problems and was not wanted there. I sold off whatever little farmland I had and I bought a small piece of land and built a mud hut in Gamru village (quite close to Mona, the doll makers studio) as till I was 24 I could work on the farm but after my husbands death it became difficult to farm, tend to cattle and take care of the girls as I had my three daughters alone. 

I now have two cemented rooms added to the mud -house which I rent to Tibetan refugees for a monthly rent of 2,000 Rs each (about £20 ). Over that, I make money from working at Dolls for Tibet and knitting dolls clothes which gives me enough money to survive and to have a peaceful life. 

Earlier I used to work part-time at other peoples houses as a cleaner and a maid,  but now I am unable to do heavy work so I quit that.

My life so far has been all right (her eyes tear up when she begins speaking about her life’s experience). I earned some on my own and God gave me the rest. 

I managed to educate my three daughters, the eldest one I could only educate till 5th grade, the middle one till 12th grade and the youngest till her graduation. I got all of them married they all live in other towns and cities and we meet sometimes.

I tell them and all others to… 

“Do well, don’t lie, work with honesty and courage. Don’t bad mouth others”

There are always tough and trying times and we must overcome them. No one can be there for you at all times, when there is trouble then only you yourself have to live through it. And we must have faith in god. As when things are good family, friends and everyone is around, when things go wrong no one wishes to be around. I have seen this in my own life. 

By keeping myself busy knitting for Dolls for Tibet and earning money I pass my time, I feel better doing this rather than sitting at home and doing nothing. Sometimes I think that I find life difficult now, whereas earlier I had no time to think. I woke up before sunrise, I tended to cattle, I cooked for my children, sent them to school, worked on the farm. Milk the cows, sell the milk to earn money, take the cows out to graze, cut firewood before dark to cook the meals on, Take care of my daughters. 

Now I am alone and my mind wanders, as I don’t have much to do, so I think a lot.” 

Brahmo Didi. 

Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, Northern India. 2016.

My thanks to Abhishek Madhukar, Journalist and film-maker, for conducting this interview and providing the translation.
You can see some of Abhishek’s work here…

Just a little of Birmingham’s brutalist architecture.

Three Brutalist building in Birmingham. Two of which have gone.

The first is the now-demolished Birmingham Central Reference Library designed by John Madin and constructed in 1974. It lasted 41 years before its recent destruction.

The second is the signal box at New St Station (comprising 2 images), designed by Bicknell & Hamilton and W.R. Healey and completed in 1965. This is listed and so remains.

The third is 103 Colmore Row, the Nat West Tower, as it was known. Designed by John Madin. It opened in 1975.  It was demolished in 2015-16 and is to be replaced by another, taller tower.

Fairground attraction 1970’s

Back in the late 1970’s, I would wander around my home city of Birmingham, camera in hand.

At the time it was all Black-and-White work, self-developed and printed in a makeshift darkroom. I had different cameras to choose from, nothing exotic. I used twin lens reflex and 35mm. These images were from my 35mm camera probably on *400asa film hence the grain.
*(I must check as I have the original negatives somewhere)

The images below were from a sojourn to an impromptu fairground, many popped up like this around the city. This one appeared in Hay Mills, adjacent to the A45 near to Small Heath.