After re-discovering a set of images he’d taken at the start of the 90’s while studying at Wolverhampton Polytechnic (now University), photographer Robert Clayton decided that 25 years on they deserved some further attention.
Looking for a space to shoot a ‘serious social documentary piece’ during his final degree year he drove through the West Midlands in search of inspiration and found the Lion Farm Estate near Oldbury.
I had always had an interest in urban landscape photography and this was to be my most serious effort that brought together my skills and abilities at that moment in time. Looking back, I think my inexperience was also a positive as the pictures have a rawness and immediacy about them.
I wanted to concentrate on an area and I always felt I needed to communicate something about my life. Returning to my own council estate to do this might have worked but it was too familiar to me and less sublime in nature, so I just drove around bits of West Midlands hinterland, and spotted an assembly of towers in the distance one day and investigated further.
I do recall seeing the estate for the first time – it had various elements but the most striking were the six 16- storey blocks that stood alone surrounded by empty fields and concrete aprons. There was a solemnness and power about the aesthetic of this specific location that was both typical and extraordinary at the same time. I knew immediately that this location offered what I was looking for and probably more.
I felt that some of my best work was as good as other great work from that era concerning British social documentary,and felt it was time I made the effort to see if others thought the same. The current political climate influenced me; we have a housing catastrophe in many parts of the UK and my work focused on buildings produced in an era when housing for everybody was a huge priority for government. Today, we see the opposite; housing is being treated as investment, and both ownership and affordable secure tenancies are slipping further away from many people’s grasp. So timing was right – I wanted my work to contribute to the debate for a return to council house building and, in a small way, with the book and exhibitions, it has.
Rob Clayton is represented by Laura Noble Gallery and limited edition prints are available for sale at lauraannnoble.com.
A Limited edition book is available at stayfreepublishing.co.uk