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Len Grant, The Man Who Captured Manchester

Jonathan Schofield on the photographer, author and commentator

Published on March 18th 2014.


Len Grant, The Man Who Captured Manchester
 

I'M not sure where I first met Len Grant but I was probably wearing a hard hat and a hi-vis jacket and it was probably in the nineties. 

The man might have catalogued the development of many prestige recent Manchester buildings but he’s also been involved with the flip side of city life.

I remember where I last met him. This was at the launch of 1 Angel Square, his visual record of the building of the recent Coop headquarters: or '1 Massive Crisis Square' as it’s become known.

Len GrantLen GrantHe was his usual urbane and modest self, not only a image snapper but a man who wanted to get to the heart of the project, its genesis and delivery. Grant's work is key in understanding how the city has changed over the last couple of decades. 

In Benjamin Disraeli’s 1840s Coningsby novel the city is such a revelation to the main character, Coningsby, and by extension Disraeli, that the latter was moved to write: ‘From early morn to the late twilight, our Coningsby for several days devoted himself to the comprehension of Manchester. It was to him a new world, pregnant with new ideas, and suggestive of new trains of thought and feeling.’

Phones4U Arena under construction - early 1990s

Phones4U Arena under construction - early 1990s00

There’s something of Len Grant in that description - although Manchester is hardly a new world to him. He was born and brought up in the city and went to Xaverian College as a kid, just like Anthony Burgess, Anthony H Wilson and lots of other people not called Anthony.

But the city is still suggestive of new trains of thought and feeling for Grant. The man might have catalogued the development of many prestige recent Manchester buildings but he’s also been involved with the flip side of city life.

His work has including award-winning projects documenting the experiences in Manchester of a heroin user, a homeless alcoholic, a failed asylum seeker and a young man who had been in care.

Life_Without_Papers

Life without papers - asylum seeker feature

“It’s been a case of right time, right place,” says Grant with his usual self-deprecation. “Being a documenter of Manchester over the last 20 years has meant witnessing some of the city’s most significant changes. Back then I was a keen amateur photographer who gave up a dissatisfying job to follow a passion. I guess it’s paid off.”

“I don’t think this could happen in every city,” Grant continues. “There has been a certain vision amongst many of my clients who have understood the value of creating a record, a document. That value increases as time passes and you can be certain of one thing: you can’t go back and do it later. Although the website looks like a visual history of Manchester and Salford, it’s a work in progress.” 

1Angelsq

1 Angel Square

So how would Grant describe himself?

“Well I’m still documenting major regeneration projects but have now started to tell the stories of the socially excluded. On the website I call myself a storyteller. I’m sure that’s pretty much what I do. I tell the stories of a new neighbourhood, the struggle of undocumented migrants or the effects of welfare reforms on low income residents. But in all I do it has been... and continues to be... a privilege to do the type of work I do.”

Her first year - low income feature

Her first year - low income feature

Len Grant is one of the good guys. It’s good to see he’s gathered that devotion to the study of Manchester onto one website. This allows you to read his words and look at his remarkable images of a city which endlessly morphs and changes. It repays time looking it over in spades - if you forgive the construction pun. 

Len Grant's work can be viewed here. You can buy 1 Angel Square from Manchester University Press.

The main image on this page shows the demolition of Manchester City's Maine Road ground. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

Bridgewater Hall - under construction in the mid-nineties

Bridgewater Hall - under construction in the mid-nineties

Moving into New IslingtonMoving into New Islington

1 Angel Square prostrate on the Confidential carpet1 Angel Square prostrate on the Confidential carpet

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Richard HJMarch 25th 2014.

Her First Year is a wonderful piece of work.

DrakeMarch 28th 2014.

This reads like an obit. Len's not dead is he?

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