Photographer Kris Askey swapped his career as a graphic designer for a life behind the lens capturing stunning shots on the streets of Birmingham and beyond
Let’s face it, the daily commute is a bit of a bind. A necessity not a joy. Same old route, same old people, nothing new. People rarely even look up anymore. For Kris Askey this became an opportunity. He’d been hankering after increased hours behind the lens, but with a full-time job as a graphic designer at Free Radio and limited spare time at the weekend, his time was squeezed, which is how the commute came into play.
Kris began utilising the journey to work to pursue what was his hobby at the time, photography and began documenting the everyday life of Birmingham and its people to stunning effect. “I had about 28 minutes from Moor Street station to Brindleyplace in the morning and a bit more time after work,” he said. “I suddenly had an extra five hours a week.”
BEAUTIFUL AND GRITTY
The resulting images show Birmingham at its beautiful and gritty best. A local lad born in Walsall, Kris found himself viewing Birmingham from a new perspective. “It was right on my doorstep and I had to walk through it twice a day, but I’d never photographed it in the way I would a place I was visiting for the first time. There’s a tendency to be complacent about the things you see and experience every day.” The route didn’t change as it was pretty direct, but there were an immeasurable number of situations and exchanges everyday on that same stretch.
Rather than waiting in the street for something to happen, Kris preferred to move through the city, seeking out interesting things/people. “I like candid, reportage style shots. Sometimes I wouldn’t see anything for days and then a hundred things would happen before my eyes.”
Because the city is changing so rapidly, looking back over the photos from two years ago is an eye-opener. There are scenes that just don’t exist anymore. It’s a valuable project and one than Kris wants to keep working on for another few years to really feel the changing shape of Brum. He says: “To publish a book of the project would be good. Once I’ve documented five years of the city that would be great.” While the photos are essentially of the street, Kris feels they’d be nothing without the people in them. “If you take the people out of the city, you remove the life from it. It just becomes an empty space.”
RADIO TA TA
In 2016, Kris took the plunge and left his job at Free Radio to pursue photography as a career. “It was scary to make the break and it took quite a long time to get myself into the position mentally. I’d been at Free Radio for five years,” says Kris. The station had been supportive of his photography and often let Kris photograph artists that came in to be interviewed. Before he left, Kris was asked to deck out the reception area with his shots to give it more of a cool vibe. “It didn’t look like a radio station or feel like you were walking into a creative work space, so it was nice to do.”
Now that Kris had more time to devote to photography he ventured from his old commuter route extending his documentation of the city resulting in a riveting body of work, such as the view from the roof of Aston University or the Old Fire Station flyover. Last year he got to photograph backstage at an empty Hippodrome for the first time which was interesting. Kris is also enjoying cherry-picking his projects and being in charge of the creative process – and outcome – and not banging someone else’s drum. Regular client work as well as street photography make for a great creative mix. “Being able to pay your bills doing something you love and not comprising is a success in my book.”
Kris has sworn by his trusty Nikon since 2011, but he’s just been lent a Fujifilm model which is testing his loyalty! “You’ve caught me at an odd moment. It’s smaller, lighter and good quality, so I may be tempted.” Lighter actually matters a lot says Kris. “Aside from editing I’m on my feet all the time, so I need to look after my back.”
Of his favourite bits of Birmingham, Kris says: “I have a little bit of a thing for a stretch down Colmore Row and also Moor Street station. I’ve spent so much time there over the years.” Despite Kris and presumably you, the Birmingham Living reader appreciating the city’s beauty and great potential, he thinks the city is underrated: “The city gets a bad rep, but over the past half-a-decade it’s really stepped up its game. It’s truly multi-cultural, there’s a wealth of talent and I think it’s underestimated.” He adds: “I think Birmingham has a lot more to offer than say Manchester.” Hear, hear!