Titled Always Forward, the photographer takes the viewer on a journey through the UK's second city – a place where his grandparents moved after emigrating from Cyprus.
Looking back to his childhood, Chris Neophytou remembers a specific moment that (more or less) decided everything. In secondary school, located in a small rural town of Shropshire – his parents have a chip shop there – he "distinctly" recalls trying to draw a 70's "half-landing staircase" and realising that he needed to get it photographed instead. Intrigued by the power of the medium, this inspired the budding artist to study photography at Camberwell College of Arts.
Ever since then, he's worked both commercially and creatively as a photographer, but not only has he shot countless series and published numerous books of his own, like Home from Home, Turista and The Spaghetti, he also launched Out of Place Books in 2016, publishing "affordable and beautifully designed photo books about places," he says.
In this latest announcement, Chris has just wrapped up his most recent book called Always Forward. A visual study into the city of Birmingham, Chris turns a documentary lens onto the UK's "second city", which is where his grandparents called home after they emigrated from Cyprus. "I didn't grow up in Birmingham, but I have always had a connection to the city," he shares. "It's where most of my family that aren't in Cyprus live now. Like so many people that grew up as part of a diaspora community, I have a heightened interest in place. Birmingham is where I now live and a city I'm passionate about. The Midlands, which is literally at the centre of the country, is an often neglected place by almost any measure. Birmingham is an interesting city, and it's a city I want to do work about."
With this in mind, Chris takes his audience on a visual journey through the cityscape. He meets all sorts of people in the process – like Angie, an "interesting character" that he's glad he to the chance to photograph. Shooting the work on a "conspicuous" medium format film camera, Chris had many people approaching him inquiring about this piece of equipment.
Angie, who features in one of the portraits, was one of those that approached; she's an amateur boxer who stated how she's also interested in photography. Angie agreed to have her picture taken: "I looked down to adjust the camera, and when I looked up, she had her fists up, and I made a few frames," adds Chris. He never saw Angie again, and the building in the photograph was later demolished. All that remains is the photographic memory.
Elsewhere in another picture, Chris took a shot in the pedestrian footpath that links to Lancaster Circus Flyover. This particular spot is known as "fastlands" to the local skateboarders, a juxtaposition between concrete and nature. "There are some really obvious themes about the connection between the build and natural environment, and the many layers of a city, but further to that, I'm interested in these 'non-places' in the city," explains Chris. "Places that aren't designed to be destinations but are transient. As Marc Augé put it, places that don't hold enough significance to be regarded as 'places'. It is interesting how often these places can take on a life of their own."
Chris' Always Forward – soon to be available in Village, Manchester – is far more than a compilation of aesthetically pleasing imagery. His work is raw, honest and representational of his own personal investigation into a city – a place associated dearly with his family.
"I'm not interested in glossy polished images, but I have a predilection to a certain kind of realism," he adds. "The city is always in flux, a network of interactions and layers, the seemingly static streets and architecture, the interplay between the natural and the built environment and the people who navigate it. I tried to take this all in." Succeeding in his mission, the work at hand offers a glimpse into the outer-edges of Birmingham, providing a trusting lens for those who seek to unearth its stories.