documenting the north west
A new photo zine by Preston Is My Paris takes an insider’s eye to the often stereotyped world of Manchester and Merseyside.
Preston Is My Paris, which ran to 15 issues, and included collaborations with Jamie Hawkesworth and Theo Simpson, was a zine that took an unflinching eye to the ignored and misinterpreted world of Preston, Lancashire.
Begun by Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson in July 2009, they took the city they both lived in, and felt was being ignored (both by the outside world, and the people in Preston itself) and began photocopying and stapling the city's visual world together, and they've ended up exhibiting as far afield as Israel and New York, as well as having their work held at the Tate Library, Fotomuseum Winterthur Collection, Artists' Books Special Collections at Manchester Metropolitan University and Special Collections at London College of Communication.
Their new series of zines, The North West, takes this same eye to a wider location, from the Wirral south of the Mersey, to Carlisle, near the Scottish border. The first issue, collating images shot by the duo over the last five years, visualises the banal, everyday and hum drum in an un-romantic, un-clichéd manner; instead The North West is an arresting, honest, new, view of a region that often succumbs to lazy visual metaphor and social stereotypes.
What inspired you to start documenting the North West initially, and specifically why Preston?
Well Robert and I lived in Preston for quite a few years and just felt not much was going on, either creatively within the city that responded to the area, or much attention being focused from outside the region. We are both proper into the city, so six years ago we began the first zine series with the intention of highlighting what we felt made it special, but also to encourage other people to produce work about the place.
Why did you feel the need to broaden the zine out geographically?
The basic answer is because we both moved to Manchester. It's a bit hypocritical going on about how good we still think Preston is, so good in fact that we moved... But we also realised we had built this big archive of imagery from various other places in the region; smaller towns like Wigan or Burnley and other major cities like Salford and Liverpool that we both spend a lot of time in. It seemed like the right time to launch something new that still kept to the intentions of the original project.
Do you feel the location is undervalued or stereotyped, from miserable Manchester to cheeky Scousers or even to the beauty of the Peak District, Wordsworth and the Sublime?
I'm not sure The North is undervalued, I think media and creative outlets rely on it heavily as source material still, I just think that what a lot of people are engaging with isn't what we experience now. It seems to be valued for what it has been, whether that's the region's industrial or cultural heritage, rather than what is actually happening up here at the moment.
The North West, compared to specifically Preston, does have a rich visual history though, what role does your zine play in that?
It would be proper arrogant to assume that our little publication alone can offer a document of the now, but ideally it will encourage people to spend more time considering what is going on up here and begin to develop a new interpretation of the region. There's so much scope for developing a new visual documentation of the area. It also gives us the opportunity to find more people who are working up here producing strong work. A lot of our publications tend to give us a reason or an introduction to other people and to find key collaborators.
What are you aiming to convey with The North West about the North West?
It's an attempt to move beyond the cliché.
What was process of assembling the book like? How do you work as a pair?
We usually work quickly on the production of the final publication. Robert and I both just gather photographs as we are doing things so the archive is built up over a number of years, but we tend to just put a selection of images in a shared file and then work out a sequence that feels right when we're working on it. There isn't really any drawn out process of collating pairs of images, it's seems to happen pretty naturally.
One rather obvious stylistic predecessor for your work is Martin Parr, but who, less obviously, do you look to as influences?
We both have a whole load of influences ranging from theory about everyday life to independent publications. But personally, I've been proper into Richard Prince and Keith Coventry recently. The way they are able to fully redact elements of their environment to the minimum needed to communicate an essence is really strong.
What separates the North from the South, visually, in your opinion? Where do you draw the line between the two?
The people that have the power and responsibility to mediate and distribute visual culture to a national and international audience - pretty much all these are based in the South. This is the massive separation, not necessarily the images.
What's next for The North West?
We are taking part in Offprint London happening at Tate Modern from 22-25 May, sharing a table with good friends Loose Joints. There's likely to be a new publication in the series after the summer and then Robert and I will also be working on new projects. There's plenty going on.
Text Felix Petty
Photography Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson