Simon Buckley tells us how he managed to capture something special about Manchester

Simon Buckley captures the mood of landscape photography with a rare eye. His Not Quiet Light project of dawn and dusk images grab that fleeting moment of sol triumphant or darkness descending with a ripe poetic quality.

He normally captures these moments with some hefty photographic kit, but it was an unhumble Apple gadget that snatched a recent spectacular success earlier this month.

The way people move through the rain is like an ancestral memory

"I was off to do some filming for a job, but the weather forecast was wrong,” says Buckley. “An incredible downpour hit and I was at Deansgate/Castlefield Metrolink station. I went to look down on the street and thought that’s an interesting scene. So I went out on to the footbridge with my phone and got five frames before the deluge caused the phone to stop working. People were laughing at my bedraggled state when I got back to the platform. I put an image on Twitter and then didn’t look for a while. When I did, I couldn’t believe it.”

He pauses and adds, “There was no plan, it was just an opportunity, and I happened to be there. It’s how a photograph often happens.”

The photo he’d tweeted went crazy with people comparing it to an L S Lowry (1887-1976) or more exactly, in my opinion, to an Adolph Valette (1876-1942), Lowry’s one time tutor. The steel grey palette, the crazy mix of rushing figures, the red car, a focus, from which your eye then careens down the matrix of roads, canals and viaducts, comes with an almost audible impression of rain and movement.

The picture instantly captured the imagination of Mancs at home and the Manc-diaspora abroad, plus lots of non-Mancs, including Stephen Fry with his 12.7m followers.

Fry wrote: ‘Someone took this photograph round here the other day. Nature imitating art, as Oscar would say, and giving a very fair version of a #lowry.’ Shame, he followed it up with ‘(sorry I can’t credit the photographer - hope they don’t mind)’. Oh, come on now, Mr Fry, it wouldn’t have taken too long to find out.

Buckley decided to produce prints and has found it hard to keep up with worldwide demand. In one Manchester framing shop a customer turned up to give their print its proper respect and found there were several already being serviced.

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The full size image: capturing Manchester?

So what does Buckley think is the appeal?

“I have been wondering why it’s so popular,” he says. “I think it’s because it’s how people perceive how Manchester is - how the image sums it up for them.

“This picture captures the myth of Manchester, the individuality of the place. We all know it doesn’t rain all the time and we all know it isn’t a Victorian city anymore, but dynamic and modern, yet in the mind’s eye of people of all ages that idea persists. In a lovely way, there’s almost a timeline, the way people move through the rain is like an ancestral memory.”

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For many people, a sun-splashed image of Manchester Is not required in the imagination

He’s right. Nobody wants their city to be the same as others. And despite the much moaned about rain, which, while not being as as frequent or as prolonged as the cliche would have us think (which we've written about here), is something people from these parts consider their own. 

In the end, the picture Buckley caught and the acclaim it's received is all about affection. A sun-soaked image is typical the world-over. Dull, often a publicity shot. For many people, such an image of Manchester is not only what they don't carry with them, it's one they don't want to carry with them The rainy image is theirs, their identity. It's a fresh Lowry or Valette. 

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'Rooftops, Manchester' by Adolphe Valette from the early 1900s
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Factories, Lancashire, by LS Lowry from the 1930s

Of course, this attitude might be as much about the manner in which Manchester has been described in anecdote, on the screen and in literature as it is about our own experience. Not that that matters, we've adopted the cliche as ours. Collyhurst comedian, Les Dawson would quip, "People think it always rains in Manchester. Not true, although I do admit it's the only place in the country with lifeboat drill on the bus routes." 

Yet, for Buckley, might the popular print be a double-edged sword? As his Not Quite Light website reveals, he produces dawn and dusk images from across the world not just in Manchester. Might he start, in his own town, to be typecast? 

“Or overcast,” laughs Buckley, “But I suppose it could turn out like Gary Numan and the song Cars - in every presentation I do, people asking me to replay ‘Manchester Rainstorm, Deansgate’. It's a scary thought, but it's great to have inspired such a reaction."