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Brum through a lens at Night

When the call goes out on Instagram for night time photography organised by the WestMidlandsPhotoCollective then you know it will be a good event.  Unfortunately, it was limited numbers, and I was unsuccessful. I put my name down  on the waiting list and promptly forgot all about it.  A day before the event, a call came through saying someone had dropped out and was I still interested?  No difficulties in saying yes.

Brum through a lens at Night
Brindley Place with reflecting lights on the Canal

We met at the Roundhouse Birmingham which is where the horses that pulled the canal boats were kept in the early days of the industrial revolution.  After a period of falling into despair, the Roundhouse is now restored to its former glory. With funding from the National Lottery Heritage fund, a partnership formed between the Canal and River Trust and National Trust has led to a community-based centre offering new purpose for the building.  Check out their web site to see what is on offer.

Brum through a lens at Night
Classic viewpoint of Gas Street Basin.
Brum through a lens at Night
Gas Street Basin looking towards the Black Sabbath bridge.

Jim and Sarah from the WMPC met us and outlined the walk.  We followed a community route called “Brum through a Lens”.  We were armed with our tripods and set out along the canals to Gas Street Basin to start taking our first set of photographs.  It is one of the highlighted stops on the Brum through a Lens walk. This classic view is immediately under the Cambrian Wharf wall, looking out over the basin towards the Cube.  I started having tripod malfunctions and struggled to get pictures.  By the time I had freed up the tripod, it was time to move on to the Cube.  On the way we passed under Holliday Street Aqueduct.  This looked an ideal spot for light trials and I lingered around the place taking what turned out to be my best picture of the night.  Several cars came through at once and I had the camera on the long exposure settings (25s, f22, ISO 100). 

Brum through a lens at Night
Light Trails under Holliday Street Aqueduct

Catching up with the group, I took a picture of the Mailbox.  Trying something different I went low and illuminated the train tracks with my torch.  The long exposure gave the water a milky texture and the background was the bright lights of the Mailbox. 

Brum through a lens at Night
Mailbox with old tracks in the foreground.

The final stop was Centennial Square with the Big Wheel and the Star Flyer.  I looked around for a vantage point.  Many of the photographers were setting up underneath the Star Flyer and I saw their pictures after the event.  It was a unique viewpoint.  I decided to stand back and get a good vantage point with both attractions in the viewfinder.  After a while I got an idea of how the Star Flyer was moving up and down.  I had a few efforts with the long exposure and then there was one session where I captured the movement from top to bottom.  The flyer had illuminated struts with people suspended in chairs out into the heights.  It looked quite scary and the movement made a good subject for the long exposure. There were also plenty of screams as well to accompany the long exposure.

Brum through a lens at Night
The Star Flyer looks like a lollipop after the long exposure treatment.

The group moved back to the Roundhouse to take part in some light painting.  Both fairy lights and long neon tubes were used for the light sources.  It was a different light display and made for some dramatic effects as shown.  The circular structure of the roundhouse allowed it to be very dark with little stray light.  An ideal location for light painting.

All the walking combined with the photography made for thirsty work.  The remaining photographers made their way to the Distillery pub for some well-earned refreshments.  There was talk about those pictures that were successful and those that got away.

Thank you to West Midlands Photo Collective for organising the meeting which was very enjoyable giving many of us an opportunity to wander around the City. Being in a group reduced concerns about our safety with all of our equipment and we were able to concentrate on the photography.

All these long exposure pictures were taken with a Canon D5 on a tripod. I used a fast zoom lens 24-105mm. The camera settings were on manual with an ISO 100. The aperture was set at either f/11 to f/22. The timings were around 30 seconds for the light trails and the Star Flyer. At the Roundhouse, I adjusted the timings to be around a few seconds due to the intensity of the light.


UoB Exchange IgersbirminghamUK

The University of Birmingham has a major economic impact on Birmingham and the West Midlands region.  The University educates students, is a major employer, a research leader in all sectors and a gateway bringing in global connections that benefit the city. Even though the University has a beautiful campus at Edgbaston, a physical footprint in the city centre has long been on the University’s wish list.  The old Municipal Savings Bank began to look an interesting project.  Especially with the location of the bank on the new look Centennial square.   

Produced by the University of Birmingham

The former Municipal Bank is a Grade II listed building and has historical links with the University.  Joseph Chamberlain was founder and first Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.  Neville Chamberlain, the son of Joseph Chamberlain was behind the building of the Municipal Bank on Broad Street.  It was first opened by Prince George in 1933 and has a long history of underpinning the wealth of an ambitious city.  However, the bank closed at the turn of the century and the last 20 years has seen the building empty with no tenants. It was famously portrayed as the AC-12 base in the BBC series ‘Line of Duty’.  The iconic safe deposit boxes in the vault were used in a Chanel advert amongst the various roles that the bank filled in these barren years.  In 2018, the University negotiated a long lease of the building with Birmingham City Council and the renovations began.

I was fortunate in my University of Birmingham role to see these renovations firsthand in October 2019 before the pandemic.  During my visit, I took a series of pictures on my iPhone.  I had no idea which room I was photographing, although I remember the vaults where the safe deposit boxes reside.  They are so interesting to see.  Rows and rows of metal doors with numbers on them.  One can only begin to imagine what was contained within them.  The building was being gutted and there was so much to do from floor to ceiling in each room.

UoB Exchange
Banking floor

Fast forward to October 2021.  Hasan Patel who is part of Communications Team at the University of Birmingham invited me to coffee at the Exchange after his Marathon Run. (Follow Hasan on Twitter to learn how to sponsor him on his running diary). We spent an enjoyable couple of hours putting the world to right.  Hasan introduced me to the University team at the Exchange and we visited several rooms in the building. 

Not long after my visit with Hasan, IgersBirminghamUK announced an Instameet at the Exchange.  Immediately I signed up and went along.  This Instameet is a friendly collection of photographers.   We were given access to all areas including the Board room and the former bank managers office which I did not get to see on my first visit.  The other interesting feature is the balcony where the bank manager opened the doors and looked out onto the banking floor to check that the bank was running smoothly.  During the Instameet, this was a favourite spot for all the photographers.

Whilst we were in the vault, we were also given access to a utility room where many of the safety deposit boxes were stored.  Now many of the boxes are placed strategically around the building and are a feature of those rooms which are used as teaching spaces and meeting areas.  This basement room had many of the old boxes and proved to be a fantastic place to take photographs.  There were still some stickers remaining and on one of the boxes the notice stated that this box could only be opened in the presence of a solicitor.  Once again one could only imagine what was kept in these boxes over the years.

We finished the tour and adjourned to the Distillery Pub next to the Roundhouse.   This is another interesting place to visit and includes a wall mural of a canal horse painted by one my favourite street artists, Annatomix.   The Roundhouse was used to care for the canal horses that pulled the boats and has been renovated as a historical place of interest. There is even one of the horse stables on view.

This was a day taking pictures of historical buildings that have been brought up to date in a city that is rediscovering its roots and moving forward.  Thank you to the team at IgersBirminghamUK for organising the tour and The University of Birmingham for opening the Exchange for this Instameet.

I have also included a blending of the old and new photographs in two of the rooms to show how the building has been modernised between my two visits.

Pictures taken with iPhone 11 and 13, camera Fujifilm x100v

If you are interested in joining an IgersBirmingham Instameet then please follow them on Instagram. An account of a previous IgersBirmingham Instameet at Moseley Market is also available on my blog.