Drawing Historic Images

I’ve been making some drawings of old photos of buildings.

Source is the Sheffield Archives, Sheffield Newspaper Collections.
Methods – tracing, cutting, collaging, drawing into printed images from the archive, taken from the Picture Sheffield Website. May also include drawings from archive news reports.

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(Other drawings have included en plein air observational drawings, and I’m planning to include work on contemporary archived representations of the site, from the planning portal, news reports, social media).

So far…
Tracing and drawing into images – a slowing down of the visual processing of the image, an understanding of what might be represented in them – not simply the building but aspects of its construction, setting. For example, many of the images juxtapose (dirty) old and (clean) new – Park Hill, surrounded by grimy older buildings, or dereliction, or the (at the time) retained Victorian Park Primary School.


Tracing images allowed me to understand their composition – the way that the landscape is represented related to the buildings.

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Chalk and Charcoal ‘over-drawings’ render contrasts of light and shade as well more clearly, emphasising the clean new utopia vs the smoke blackened city.


Let’s not forget that these are images catalogued as being about Park Hill, but were taken to illustrate news stories – these might pertain to Park Hill’s construction and the clearance of slum areas around it (they often do) but equally many are evidently about other things – Park Hill is a backdrop – but the choice of backdrop, is significant. So far images are from the 1960s.
Both methods perform a blurring of detail – individuals are reduced to ciphers – representing a very large group of children playing in one of the estate’s play areas – but allow the photographers intention to shine through – these images are clearly meant to show how the building is both radical and modern and different from what went before – but in encouraging street life (cf. Photos of Hulme, Manchester before clearances) are supporting and support by the working-class communities within them. Although individuals in the photos are often unidentifiable, they are archetypal – older ladies with headscarves, young children in short trousers.


Clear tropes in representing the buildings become evident too. Frequently Park Hill, and especially Hyde Park, are represented as sky-line silhouettes in images which clearly relate to other news-stories in Sheffield – the redevelopment of the Market area, or a high level international visit, with the station be-decked with flags.

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This seems like a constant reflection/re-iteration of the idea that Park Hill is, in terms of urban form, a castle on a hill, a people’s palace towering above Sheffield, a symbol of the city’s renewal. It will be interesting to see depictions from later photographs.


These methods have their limitations – they are small scale, and some thought needs to go into how they might be expanded. But, there is a clear relationship to other visual methods of understanding place – I think of them as topographical drawings of topographies which no longer exist. Applied to the planning drawings from 2008 onwards they may come to represent topographies of place which don’t yet (fully) exist. But in choosing such slight methods – tracing, drawing over theprimacy of the original image is respected, yet can be unpicked, unpacked. There is also an archaeology about them, unpicking and understanding elements of the landscape their function, and intended purpose. The no longer existing concrete faced play area in front of tha garage block is a case in oint, traces remain of the quite spectacular cast concrete walls, ramps and stairs, in the form of vestigal concrete walls and setps incorporated into a soften landscape-earthwork. I wonder how much still exists beneath the wildflower planting? Clearly later pictures (e.g. 70s, 80s)will show these areas differently.