SPOTLIGHT: Christopher Bethell

Please tell us a little about yourself and your career so far as a photographer?

For a long time I have been obsessed with urban exploration and the concept of the ruin.

Urban Exploration in case you’re not aware, is the act of wanting to see the unseen. This involves venturing into derelict sites such as hospitals, asylums, old military camps, power stations etc, wading downstream into vast networks of drains, climbing up cranes, finding your way onto city rooftops or any other interpretation of exploring the urban environment.

I began building two separate bodies of work based around the places I was seeing – one in daylight and one by moonlight. With these two bodies of work I have achieved a fair amount of success. The work ‘Ruins by Night’ has been signed by Millennium Images – a contemporary photography agency whose main clients are publishers; selling the images for book covers.

The other body of work has also been successful in that one of the photographs called ‘Partition Curtain, Ward, Kingsway Hospital’ came runner up in Blank Media’s The Title Art Prize last year, and has now been shortlisted for the AOP ‘student of the year’ award – which means that it will be exhibited in London in May!

Your work around the theme of abandonment is intriguing, what is the concept behind these works? What is it about these decaying buildings and objects which excite you?

My work considers the nature of wanting to see the unseen. I try to communicate the placid atmosphere that is experienced whilst exploring – a feeling that is amplified in such places as (derelict) hospitals in contrast to the noise of active ones.

Photography has changed what is commonly believed to be beautiful. Most would not wish to live (or even be) in these conditions, but once photographed they become an aesthetic fascination. My images try to describe the serene beauty of these buildings that are now devoid of purpose and is heavily inspired by the romanticism associated with the ruins of Rome. I simply seek this same conclusion from modern ruins.

‘When we contemplate ruins, we contemplate our own future.’
– Christopher Woodward, In Ruins.

Do you work with analogue or digital cameras? What’s the reasoning behind your decision?

I work with both, I consider each as a tool and I pick the right one for the job. If I have the opportunity to slow down, then I will usually opt for analogue. This is because I can shoot on either medium or large format; giving me much more detail than I would capture on a digital sensor. Working with such formats also allows you to spend as much time as you need on each shot; as opposed to digital when the tendency is to just keep shooting and hope you have one good shot amongst the hundreds.

Saying that though, most of my work has been digital due to the nature of exploring. Lighting conditions are constantly changing drastically and carrying several cameras with different film speeds in them is not practical. My digital performs well with low light and also allows me to capture shots that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Are you working on any projects at the moment? Tell us about it/them?

I have been commissioned by VICE magazine to shoot a documentary project on Manchester. They run a feature called ‘is a paradise’ where they commission photographers around Britain and America to document their city in an irreverent, ironic manner. The brief is to capture gritty, disgusting, shocking and amusing images of Manchester that aren’t shown by the tourist boards. I am looking back to the work of Nan Goldin and Tom Wood for some inspiration in social documentary whilst also looking at the work of Terry Richardson for the throw-away aesthetic that works so well with such a subject.

I am also about to start researching for a future project based around ghost hunters, mediums and psychics. The project will either take place in America or Britain depending on the funding that I will be able to get. I will be documenting their lives both when they are actively hunting and when they are just living their lives. I hope also to take them to some of the locations I have been to/scouted out so that I can document their relationship with the ruined environment in contrast to the Urban Explorers’ relationship.

What would you says is your biggest photographic aspiration/goal?

In a perfect world, I would find myself at Magnum Photos, New York in ten years – being sent off across the world to document important issues whilst working with some of the best photographers that there has ever been.

In the real world though, I would be very happy to find backing from a photography agency that believes in my work. My dream is to work without too much creative constraint and produce what is hopefully considered as ‘important work’.


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