A national collection of 377 images that tell the stories behind the shopfronts on the English high street.
Picturing Chester City Centre with Ciara Leeming, Photographer
Photographer Ciara Leeming worked with a group of Chester residents who attend a mental health crisis space to reimagine Chester’s historic city centre, using a combination of archive images and collaging processes.
Developing a socially engaged approach
Ciara Leeming took part in a Continuing Professional Development programme with Open Eye Gallery which supports photographers to develop skills in socially engaged approaches to photography.
Ciara was awarded a commission with Picturing High Streets to work with a community in Chester’s High Street Heritage Action Zone. After initial guidance from artist Suzanne St Clare, photographer in residence in Chester, Ciara worked with a core group of 5 participants from Café 71, a mental health centre in Chester.
Finding stories of how people use the Rows
Over a series of 9 workshops, Ciara and the participants visited the area around Chester’s Rows to make photographs. These photographs were then used as a starting point for discussions about the nuanced and complex relationships group members have with the city centre.
They talked about how they, and other community members, use these unique and historical spaces. The experiences they discussed ranged from using the Rows to shelter from rain or escape the noise and bustle of the streets, to their use by children and as hangouts for teenagers, some of whom skateboard around parts of the Rows in the evenings.
One group member who had worked in a café on the Rows told how rough sleepers had sometimes used these sheltered corners and used the café’s balcony plugs to charge their phones in the evenings, when it was closed. Another participant had a friend who lives in a council flat directly above the Rows.
The group discussed how events like Chester Races change the dynamic of this area and their own feelings towards the centre and the city more generally. These conversations then formed the basis for the development of photo captions.
Reimagining Chester city centre
Participants also spent several weeks creating surreal and fanciful collages reimagining Chester city centre, using images from the Historic England archive, images from magazines and in some cases, photographs they had made during walks.
Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.
Ciara worked with sensitivity and creativity to support the group to produce independent photographic and collage based works in response to their feelings about living in Chester. These works were exhibited as a large public-facing vinyl display at the local shopping centre in summer of . Ciara has gone on to deliver major commissions with Open Eye Gallery as a lead artist, a testament to the development of her practice during the Picturing High Streets opportunities.
Picturing Chester City Centre collection
The selected photographs from Ciara Leeming's Chester commission have entered the Historic England Archive, the nation’s archive for England’s historic buildings, archaeology and social history. They are part of the new Picturing High Streets national photography collection.
Ciara Leeming is a Manchester-based photographer and writer.
Originally trained as a journalist, she wrote about social affairs for newspapers and magazines before moving fully into photography.
As a photographer, she worked collaboratively with Eastern European Roma families on an independent documentary project and has worked for many years with indigenous Gypsy and Traveller communities.
She is currently developing a socially engaged project in Wigan with Open Eye Gallery.