Like much of my work, the Park Hill film project reflects a fascination with the relationships we have with our physical and cultural environment. Like many things, for many people, this is probably rooted in childhood, my own being a mix of places, nationalities, dialects and languages. A strong connection to place and shared space exists for most of us, however that evolves. The three-month Coronavirus lockdown, which began just after the film was made, put this into sharp relief.
There is something very powerful about places with personal and cultural significance. Somewhere that the ghosts of the past sit alongside new experiences. This is what drew me to making portraits and interviews with construction workers who grew up in and around the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield only to find themselves, decades later, rebuilding and regenerating it.
The project led me to meet Sheffield’s poet laureate Otis Mensah, who has written poems for Park Hill that will sit as permanent public art within the fabric of the building. It seemed interesting to intertwine some of the construction workers’ stories with Otis’s personal associations with the site. It was also fitting to title the film We Were Never Derelict after one of Otis’s poems. I hope the film conveys how the process of rebuilding Park Hill has caused workers to revisit their previous relationships with this iconic place.
It is a story of old and new and I have combined my own contemporary (colour and black and white) photography with a small selection from the great Sheffield photographer, Pete Hill, who photographed the estate from the 1970s through to the 90s. So you see the building and its environs as it was then and now. I conceived and designed the split screen collage using the colour palette of the new phase of the building to weave in images of the past and present. This also stylistically references a technique that was occasionally used in cinema in the era when Park Hill was built. I wanted to subliminally conjure up mid 20th century optimism as the building is refurbished for the 21st century while respecting and arguably even enhancing the original design.
The musical accompaniment was always integral to how I imagined the film. I used my own composition “Over the Horizon” performed by myself, indie legend Bill Wells and acclaimed folk instrumentalist Brian McAlpine. The music doesn’t reflect any specific period in Park Hill’s history but hopefully contributes to an overall mood that suggests links between reminiscences of places past and hopes for the future.