Preston is my Paris: a new book reveals the unlikely allure of a Northern England city
The final chapter in Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson’s decade-long project celebrates the role that photography and culture can play outside of major British urban centres
Preston, on the surface, is a distinctly unremarkable British city. It’s also ever-changing, in a way – a city for train commuters who find themselves in limbo between Wigan and Lancaster. For ten years, Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson have dedicated themselves to exploring the oft-overlooked locale with Preston is my Paris – a photography-based project that began as a photocopied zine has since come to include publications, site-specific installations, live events, digital applications, education and writing.
The pair had known each other for a few years before they began their Preston project in earnest, prompted by their studies at the University of Central Lancashire in the early 2000s. ‘The aim was to encourage the exploration of the city for people living there and a site for creative practice,’ says Murray. Now, it has culminated with a new, richly illustrate tome Preston is my Paris 2009-2019 that features over 100 photographs from the archive with high quality reproductions of rare printed matter.
Preston is my Paris investigates overarching themes relating to everyday life, regional identity and the role that photography and culture can play outside of major urban centres. Among the highlights over the years, Murray fondly remembers turning a vacant shop in the Guildhall Shopping Arcade into a gallery, studio and teaching space for a month, while Parkinson is partial to the live elements of the project.
Both remark the city has changed drastically since the inception of Preston is my Paris – ‘It was on its knees when we first started doing the project,’ says Parkinson. Preston, like many northern cities, was languishing. ‘It was certainly a city that was effected by austerity and plans for massive redevelopment of the city centre did not happen.’ Ultimately though, ‘[Preston] has been quite savvy in how it’s survived in a difficult climate.’ And in that respect, credit is due to current Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown, who pioneered what has become known as the Preston Model.
Since 2011, the innovative economic approach – devised by the City Council in tandem with the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) – has been helping to reverse the city’s decline. Murray notes, ‘Preston has its challenges in that it is close to large cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, but also smaller places rich in the national imagination, such as Blackpool.’ Nonetheless, the city has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in recent years thanks to a shift in the council’s attitude – most notably with the regeneration of the Preston bus station, a brutalist icon that ‘has become an icon of the city’.
Meanwhile, Parkinson and Murray’s project has attracted the attention of discerning minds. For example, London-based photographer Jamie Hawkesworth and Open Eye Gallery director Sarah Fisher are among those who have made written contributions to the new book. And various Preston is my Paris publications are held in important collections including the Tate Library, Fotomuseum Winterthur Collection and The Martin Parr Foundation. BAM senior art director and Wallpaper* alum Ben Mclaughlin (along with Georgia Cranstoun), too, has loaned his credentials to the book’s design.
After a decade, this latest publication from Dashwood Books only seems a natural conclusion to the series. And while the duo are forging their own paths with independent projects, they are all ‘rooted in some of the core ideas of Preston is my Paris’. §