by Chris Belcher April May 2015
The images here are from a series of 63 exterior and extensive interior photographs of a government building, ‘a Crown Building’ more precisely, to give it its correct status, and located within the UK.
The work was made in 1982 over a period of several weekends, working with a 5×4 view camera. Due to the nature of some of the material involved, I was always accompanied by security staff.
My strategic approach was to structure the photographs and start with an establishing shot. I would follow this by photographs of the exterior from the surrounding roads, and then go on to make a progression of interiors up through the sixteen story building itself, in an otherwise unstructured way. (please click on images to enlarge)
The series would culminate with four exterior views made from the top floor corresponding to the opening exterior photographs. I didn’t make a full survey of the building initially, but rather decided to allow the interior to reveal itself and its potentials as I progressed.
The building, although structurally finished, was in a transition period of partial occupation and partial completion. Basic services were functioning. (please click on images to enlarge)
The ground floor housed a high tech and high security Home Office (HO) department dealing with sensitive computerised information. It had its own internal reception area. A department dealing with the management of all government buildings, The Property Services Agency (PSA), was also located there and also had its own reception area. (Please click on images to enlarge)
The magazine lying on the table in H.O. Reception, difficult to see in this image, but readable in the exhibition print was, remarkably, ‘The Peoples Friend’ (please click on image to enlarge)
The notice on the rear wall of 21 reads ‘Look, Think, Suggest’.
Various other data archives and processing departments, many concerned with the migration and transition of analogue data into digital data and its subsequent storage, occupy or were about to occupy this and subsequent floors. (please click on image to enlarge)
‘PBX’, relates to telephone communications.
The grid on the white board in 39, shows days of the week, against the names, ‘Graham, Jean, Dave, David, Liz, and Peter’.
Examples from the upper floors. (please click on image to enlarge)
The four exterior views from the sixteenth floor.
The work was first shown in its entirety at the IKON Gallery in Birmingham in 1985, as part of a two person show ‘ Corporate Image’ along with Paul Highnam’s photographic work ‘The City’. The following year ‘Corporate Image’ was shown at The Axiom Centre for the Arts, with a catalogue introduction by John X Berger. Some of the photographs from ‘A Crown Building’ were also included in a ‘Photographer’s Gallery’ exhibition ‘Image and Exploration’ and the exhibition catalogue.
In a review of the Ikon exhibition in The British Journal of Photography, August 1985, entitled ‘ Used in Evidence’, Rob Powell went some way towards describing some of the issues I was endeavouring to explore through the work when he wrote:-
‘more unsettling, ultimately, is Chris Belcher’s clinical room-by-room dissection of an anonymous new government complex. Here is a pokerfaced ‘New Topographics’ of interiors, functional spaces wired for control, loaded with electronic technology and captioned with signs and utterly depopulated. The blank eyes of VCR screens reflect strip lighting, nerve-like jungles of circuitry protrude from floors and walls, panels are packed with insulation matted like stiff hair. One emergent metaphor is that of a body photographed endoscopically, a labyrinth view inside some massive and inert robot. ‘Confidential Waste’ says a sign over a dustbin. ‘Bomb Blast First Aid’ says another in a corridor on the sixteenth floor. Everything is waiting expectant- for completion, for inhabitation, for orders, for a finger on the button. And in top-floor views to north, east, south and west, the kingdom stretches away from this strange citadel of parliamentary democracy in the 1980’s.’
The stringent security measures in place today make it unlikely such a project could be easily made again. Even then in the early 80’s, I was advised to take legal advice to ensure that either I would not be liable to prosecution or have the work pulled from any subsequent exhibition. Following that advice I did in fact decide to not include one particular photograph.
This photographic project could not possibly have been undertaken without the help and support of ‘Mac’, to whom I shall be forever grateful. East Midlands Arts generously provided a grant towards exhibiting the work.
Chris Belcher April May 2015
All images are by Chris Belcher, 1982, © Chris Belcher