And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
— William Blake
This article for Macfilos came about in a curious roundabout way. I commented on an article by Richard Alton who in turn checked back with my website. He suggested I contact Mike Evans who was enthusiastic and asked me to set down the background to the images.
Mike felt touched by the photographs because, as he says, he came from a similar northern background and finds the street scenes evocative of his youth.
The big question is why someone who was born and grew up in the far-off Balkans should become attracted to and enchanted by England’s industrial north. While in secondary school, I came upon Friedrich Engels’s book The Condition of the Working Class in England and my imagination was fired by his descriptions of Manchester and the surroundings. You know, the dark satanic mills and all that.
My curiosity deepened when later I read more books on the subject, including George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and J.B.Priestley’s English Journey (and, of course, Charles Dickens although almost all his novels, with the one exception of Hard Times, were set in the South East).
Finally, after I had arrived in London in the autumn of 1968, I bought Bill Brandt’s Shadow of Light and was blown away, particularly by his photographs of northern towns. From then on visiting and photographing the area became an obsession with me and at last I made several brief trips to the North, mostly over weekends.
I was mesmerised by what I saw and found the people down-to-earth and very friendly. During my first visits I used an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic camera and a battery of lenses ranging from 20mm to 300mm, but in 1971 switched to a Leica M4 with 35mm and 50mm Summicrons. My film of choice was Kodak Tri-X exposed at 400 ASA and developed in D76 1:1.
These photographs, including scenes from Bradford, Oldham, Manchester, Burnley, Halifax, Huddersfield and Liverpool, had been collecting the proverbial dust in the form of contact prints until 2012, when I had them scanned and saw them ‘enlarged’ for the first time. They have never been exhibited, published or otherwise widely shown.
Thus it is that a collection of images of Northern England taken 50 years ago now finds a home here in Belgrade, Serbia.
All photographs ©Dragan Novakovic and may not be reproduced without permission
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