“IT WERE like livin’ in ‘eaven.”
A simple statement from a former Sheffield slum dweller reflecting on their move to Park hill flats in the 1960s and a statement that describes the rise, fall and rebirth of the fortunes of Sheffield’s most controversial tower block.
The phrase is also the title of Michelle Granger Robertson’s picture essay that won her the Judges Prize at Sheffield’s Art In The Garden last weekend.
Michelle, aged 25 from Dronfield, used images of the tower block during its recent renovation and rebuild to create a montage that gives the building a new feel and a different perspective.
“I had been to Art In The Garden before and realised that it was a pretty prestigious show,” said Michelle studied photography at Sheffield College, Cambridge School Of Art and Hereford College Of Arts. I thought it would be a good platform for me to come back to Sheffield on.
“I was surprised to win and it’s great to have a lot of people come to see my work - they said that around 10,000 were at the show at the weekend and I would like to have the picture put on show in a public space somewhere in Sheffield . I’m hoping to get in touch with English Heritage or one of the Sheffield museums to get it on display. I’m working on another picture which will be smaller but will have more of the city in it.”
Sheffield is especially important to Michelle because her grandfather moved to the city as an immigrant from Southern Italy in the 1940s
“I love Sheffield because it’s where my grandfather came to all those years ago to work in the steelworks. By taking and working with pictures of Sheffield it is like me being in touch with the city and with him.
“It was a new like and a new opportunity for him and as I work around Sheffield I think of the places that he might have seen. I love the architecture of the city and I love the feel of the place. I think derelict buildings are more interesting than pretty pictures.”
How did she come about the title of the piece?
“It’s from an old newspaper article, it might have been the Star actually,” said Michelle.
“I liked the quote. It was the way some people felt when they first went to live in the flats so I thought it would make a good title. I need to go back now the flats have been renovated sand do some more pictures from a different perspective.”
So do her pictures take a lot of setting up?
“Not really. I usually take them pretty instantly. I do not do much manipulation but the piece I won with was a multiple images that exaggerates the angles of the building. It took months to pull it all together and there were some problems to overcome but I like the end result.”
Michelle has also had more serious problems to overcome.
When she was 17 years old she had an operation to correct curvature of her spine caused by scoliosis. It meant she could only study A Levels part-time and delayed her entry to the Hereford College Of Arts where she eventually earned her BA Photography Degree.
“It was a personal thing that I had to overcome but I think that having to do that made me a stronger person.
“Having the operation and going through something like that is quite life-changing and I think my work has actually been inspired by it.
“I have done self-portraits and tried to represent what’s going on inside by manipulating the picture and express it through my work.
“I was only able to work part-time while I got my strength back. It is a major operation but most of the pain has gone since I had it. it was something that got worse for me in adolescence.
“It doesn’t stop me doing anything, I get along fine with it now. It has made me a stronger person.”