For anyone who grew up in Leeds, the Quarry Hill flats might be a familiar memory. Now a new book by the legendary Peter Mitchell is a visual document of their abandonment and subsequent demolition and contains many photographs that have never before been seen.
Titled Epilogue – The Demise of the Quarry Hill Flats, the book contains nearly 50 photographs of Quarry Hill, a large housing estate in Leeds built in the 1930s as part of a "great social experiment" to accommodate an entire community of three thousand people. By the 1970s, both the vision and the flats were crumbling, and the decision was made to tear them down. The notion of Utopia underpins the narrative of Quarry Hill, from its visionary beginnings to its decline and final dying breath.
"I photograph dying buildings, and Quarry Hill was terminal by the time I got to it," Mitchell says of the series. "Times change, and I know there was no point in keeping Quarry Hill Flats. But what it stood for might have been worth keeping."
The book, which includes a new text by Mitchell, is a sequel to his 1990 publication Memento Mori, which brought together the archive material for a more narrative approach to telling the final part of the story of Quarry Hill in an increasingly unpopulated and other-worldly landscape. We're talking original documents and archival photographs as well as oral history alongside his own observations and photographs to illustrate the complexities behind change and failure.
This new book is part of RRB's ongoing work with Mitchell to preserve his archive. Born in Manchester in 1943, Mitchell left school at 16 and trained as a cartographic draughtsman working for the civil service, until aged 24, he went to the Hornsey College of Art in north London. After a visit to Leeds, he never returned to London and has lived in the same house in Chapeltown for more than four decades.
During his working life, he has had many jobs, truck driving to silkscreen and printmaking, hand-lettering and poster designer and stock control clerk of a perfume counter – all the time taking photographs. It was his time driving as a truck delivery driver that Mitchell became familiar with Leeds and its many streets and corners, seeing them from a whole new perspective.
His debut exhibition, A New Refutation of the Space Viking 4 Mission, at Impressions Gallery in 1979 established his career and was the first colour exhibition, at a British photographic gallery, by a British photographer. However, it wasn't until the publication of his book Strangely Familiar (2013) that things really accelerated at the age of 70. Two further books have followed — Memento Mori (as previously mentioned), Some Thing Means Everything to Somebody and A New Refutation of the Space Viking 4 Mission.
His work has since been included in exhibitions at Tate Britain, and Media Space in London, and National Media Museum in Bradford. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Royal Photographic Society and Leeds Art Gallery, amongst others.
Epilogue – The Demise of the Quarry Hill Flats by Peter Mitchell is published by RRB Books and is available to pre-order before its release in December.