Roger Mayne & Bill Stephenson, Love Among the Ruins

S1 Artspace, Sheffield, 20th July – 15th September 2018

This is the first exhibition since S1 Artspace moved to its new gallery on Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill Estate, which is the subject of the exhibition.


Commissioned in 1956, the estate was seen as a radical response to the post-war housing and health crisis. Mayne’s photographs were taken in the early sixties and his grainy monochrome 35mm images, in the style of his work in other working class areas of Britain, capture the day to day life of the community in the early years of the estate. In contrast, Stephenson’s posed informal colour portraits of residents, were made in 1988 in the last days of the, now demolished, neighbouring Hyde Park estate, when both the estates were in considerable disrepair and decline. Today the Park Hill estate is going through substantial redevelopment, with the first phase of redesigned apartments being sold, and one of the other two remaining blocks empty.


The exhibition includes projection of a 60s documentary on Park Hill, and display of documents charting the development and decline of the estate.


The photographs represent two very different periods and approaches to photography. Mayne gives insight into an era in which working class communities were relocated to new housing developments, and explores how communities reform in new, radically different context of the housing development. Stephenson’s work focuses more on the individuals and has a clear sense of collaboration with the people in the photographs.


[From Bill Stephenson, Streets in the Sky, 1988]

The estate is still there as a context, and a clear sense of life on the estate is conveyed by the portraits. For me, bringing these two bodies of work together seems, as an exhibition, arbitrary (though it makes sense as the initial exhibition in this space, and reprises an earlier joint exhibition). Stephenson’s work is certainly closer to the work that I aspire to create. As an exhibition experience, I’m aiming for something more engaging and challenging.

As a footnote, the Park Hill estate acted as a template for the Singapore Housing Development Board estates, with somewhat different outcomes.