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Book Review: Brutal North by Simon Phipps

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but that is exactly where I am going to start with this one. As a hardback copy the quality is always there, the colours too are vibrant with the title standing out from the blue cover keeping things tidy and simplistic. This book looks at the brutalist architecture of post war Britain, specifically the north, and this is clearly outlined through the introduction which gives a brief insight into what brutalist architecture is giving multiple examples too.



When flicking through the pages you get a real sense of quality from the paper used, with it being thicker pieces, this gives a better print quality for the images. Speaking of images, this is predominantly what the book is made up of.


Each chapter of the book is based on different locations in the North of England and then the images following are all in black and white which hints back to the themes of brutalism and harshness. Lots of harsh contrasts in the editing process went into the images making them appear even more rough and rugged than they already are. From what I can see in the images they are shot digitally and without a tilt shift lens as the angles seem to be more distorted than they normally would do if they were shot in a medium format with a tilt shift lens for example. This doesn’t take away from the story that the photobook is trying to tell of displaying the once significant civic building produced during the post war era. In a way these ties beautifully into my project of ‘Rejuvenate’ which looks at the current era of public buildings and how it has progressed from this brutalist construction into something that blends into the architecture of ‘The South’ that Phipps mentions within this book. Phipps has a very holistic viewpoint when it comes to photography.

He explains that he likes his images to appear lifeless leaving just the structure in the composition, however, in his descriptions he likes to explain the full story and involves the community changes surrounding his subjects (the buildings). I recall back to one image at the Wigan Civic Centre where two northern lads pestered for a picture with the northern minimalist architecture in the background. Phipps suggested that maybe they subconsciously wanted to be part of the storyline of northern architecture, or maybe they just wanted a picture? Either way it makes you think that these buildings are now part of the community after standing with them for so many decades symbolising what was then the beginning of ‘The Northern Powerhouse’ movement.





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