images and text © Chris Wormald 2011 no reproduction without written permission.
Over the decades (since the late 1970s) I have often been commissioned to photograph Bristol. I cheerfully admit to being pleased when that city figures on a list of images required.
Bristol, Bath, Salisbury, Winchester, Warwick, Chester, Oxford and Cambridge are all places that are interesting for any photographer who has an inclination towards taking architectural shots.
The outstanding thing about Bristol, is that one can do a set of pictures and return six months or a year later having to update it as the pace of change has been so fast. New buildings appear and old warehouses are turned into yuppie flats and high-tech offices. New shopping centres spring up like instant cathedrals for worshipping consumers. Whilst (thankfully) a real cathedral is valued and maintained, if only for the tourists.
Bristol was a city built on the dreadful profits of slavery with a huge floating harbour (one with a lock to make it non tidal). All that gradually fell into decline after WW2, but thankfully has undergone a renaissance in the late 20thC and is still going strong in the 21stC. The Floating Harbour is Bristol’s “piece de resistance”, snaking around through the city centre, past a marina, the ss.Great Britain in her dry dock, wharves of redeveloped warehouses turned into cafés and bars, two art galleries, new footbridges, old bridges that open and many that don’t. It passes a park and two churches, shopping centres and a new business district. It has many passenger ferries and some wonderful craft from maritime history such as the replica sailing ship “Mathew”, fire-boats, tugs and many very desirable live-aboard barges that cost a small fortune. During the summer season fine sailing craft venture up the Avon on a high tide, under Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, to moor up for a while in the city centre outside the Arnolfini Art Gallery.
Bristol has a highly respected university and several colleges and is thronged with students having the academic, social and shopping time of their lives.
In the 1970s, Bristol became one of the first cities to have an “alternative edge” something that it has managed to retain. It took the needs of cyclists seriously and developed cycle-paths and crossings. There is still a redeveloped tobacco warehouse dedicated to forward thinking green organisations and businesses, with a “sustainable” eco-show-house in the grounds. Although the modern day Bristol is not the leading “alternative” town (that title certainly belongs to Brighton with its Green Party MP) it is a “Transition City” with a great number of dedicated, clever people learning how best to cope with a changing climate, a changing world and the vested business interests that continue to deny any change of thinking is needed, and “climate change” and “peak oil” are of concern only to hippies and activists.
The leafy heights of Clifton a mile or two from the centre, are a smaller version of London’s Hampstead. Lovely period buildings, crescents and specialist shopping areas with cafés and bars, a night-life away from the manic city centre with its drunks and noise. Clifton has a brilliant zoo and open downs with stunning views over the gorge and suspension bridge.
For a few years now, I have not been able to park my motor caravan on the Baltic Wharf Caravan Club Site, whilst photographing the city, it always seems to be full! Testament perhaps, to the popularity of Bristol as a tourist venue as well as a great city to live!