You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

By Roger

People of a certain age will recognize this as a quotation – possibly a misquotation – from one of Joni Mitchell’s songs that was probably popular around the time I took these photos. I took these with an Olympus 35ECR using FP4, exposed at 160 ASA/ISO, developed in Promicrol. Idiotically, I wrote the processing information on the negative sleeves but not the date. Like most people, around the millennium I stopped using film and became enthusiastic about digital, but always kept my film cameras. I started using film again recently, and even acquired a some new film cameras, realizing that, though I can imitate the look of film, I cannot capture it exactly by processing digital images.

Instead of some recent photos, I thought it would be more interesting to put up some that date from around 1974-5 when I was living in Birmingham. They show some of Birmingham’s old market buildings in the middle of being demolished. The first, showing the hoardings keeping the public out, is just a street scene, with a two people who are walking away from the centre, presumably with their shopping. Its value is that it identifies the location to anyone who knows Birmingham, with St Martin’s church and the Rotunda behind it, both of which are still important landmarks.

Shows the location in relation to well known landmarks of Rotunda and St Martin's church

A second image shows the inside of the market half way through the destruction, with the names of the sellers still showing and the fascinating architecture above.

The third shows another view of the market showing the devastation, which reminds me of similar pictures that are on the web showing what happened in WW2.

I was obviously not allowed inside but was taking such photos as I could from the street. The fourth image shows the markets through an archway near the street.

However, the one I like most is the final one showing a single gate, presumably wrought iron, still standing, its partner having gone, with distant buildings on one side and St Martin’s church on the other.

Why show these pictures that probably mean most to people who remember the old city (since then, I believe the area may have been redeveloped twice)? It is not because I want to focus on the destruction itself, though half demolished buildings can be interesting, as can half-built ones. No, my point is that I missed the opportunity to take these, and other buildings before they were being demolished: at the time when they were simply part of the scenery I knew, not realizing that one day they would disappear, surviving only in old photos. It is a reason why I am now trying to take photos not just of spectacular vistas, but of places that are familiar but which might, one day, disappear. I decided to do that using film, which seems to suit such recording, alongside more modern colour images taken on a digital camera. Just trying to record what is around you can be relaxing, but occasionally results in a rewarding image.

I decided that keeping this to five images would be good discipline, but I have added a “bonus” taken around the same time, which is fun. It is the King Kong Kar Ko with its towering mascot (probably taken with a Pentax SP500). It is another reminder that I did not think of taking the gorilla when it was in its original location, in the middle of a roundabout near Birmingham’s Bull Ring, before the City Council decided not to have it permanently.

King Kong in one of its many locations

Another reminder of the importance of recording the things we take for granted before they disappear. The history of the statue is in a famous encyclopedia but I hope my image adds to that story. Note how expensive cars were in December 1974, though notice that £35 for a Vauxhall Viva or £55 for a Ford Escort is only the deposit!

 

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Comments

Alan Simpson on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 07/12/2023

A very worthwhile article and photos. I try to do something similar in my locality. Every couple of months or so I check my local authority's website for planning applications. If I see an application to demolish an interesting building, I make a point of going out and photographing it before it's gone.
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shawn granton on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

"Indeed, modern buildings are just street furniture to be replaced as fashion changes. Contrast this with medieval stone buildings constructed to last. I ask myself 'is it worth photographing modern architecture?' and my answer is no." That's quite an interesting take on this article. I thought the whole point of it was to document your world as it is right now, even in its mundanity because we don't know how long it will last. I'm sure that at the time Roger took these photos, the market buildings were considered outmoded. Maybe at the time they were built some people thought they were important, but more probably thought it was just "street furniture" not worth pointing out. And now these buildings are gone, and I'm sure lots of folks regret that. Modern architecture may not be the most beautiful things in our eyes, but how do we know what the future generations will think?
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Bob Ashford on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

What a fantastic set of photographs and a well written article. Thank you.
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Sergio Palazzi on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

Great photos and narrative. Make me remainder that in the following years I had my "eve of destruction" moments, living here north of Milan. If you like, you could give a look at this booklet, catalogue of a small exhibition that I held after some decades on the same location. Ciao! http://www.kemia.it/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/baliverna_catalogo.pdf
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Bill Brown on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

Roger, I completely agree. I have a heart for this type of photo work. I wrote an article for Emulsive in 2018 addressing this very topic. It is lengthy at about a 22 minute read with numerous photos but since you are returning to film it may help to inspire you in the future. https://emulsive.org/articles/projects/shooting-a-personal-photographic-project-thoughts-and-other-musings-by-william-brown Keep an eye out for those moments that have a way of passing unnoticed by those around you.
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Geoff Chaplin on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

Indeed, modern buildings are just street furniture to be replaced as fashion changes. Contrast this with medieval stone buildings constructed to last. I ask myself "is it worth photographing modern architecture?" and my answer is no. I was told the new office block where I worked, concrete and steel in the City, had a commercial lifespan of under 20 years. Your historical photographs are excellent and this is a valuable post and lesson. Thanks.
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Stevenson G on You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone

Comment posted: 06/12/2023

Great photos. And I share your thoughts about recording the everyday - I try to when I think of it, but often it seems too dull! But when one remembers that even the dull will be but a distant memory someday it seems more worthwhile...
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