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Steel City

by Leticia Batty

Today we’re featuring Leticia Batty’s Steel City project, which explores the city of Sheffield. We were inspired by the simplicity of the concept of the work, which resulted from Batty’s love of the place. Sometimes less is more – not all art needs a complex narrative behind it and this is what drew us to Batty’s work.

Batty is a photographic artist specialising in medium format colour photography, originally from Worksop in Nottinghamshire and currently living in London since moving there to complete a photography degree at the University of Westminster.

She often focuses on themes of identity, landscape, British politics and the self in her practice. Since graduating, she has been working full-time within the photographic industry, and currently works for a picture library in London.

Read our interview with her to find out more about her practice and her work.

A lot of us know very well about the jarring transition from the student life to the real world – how was it for you?

I feel that I was very lucky that I got a job within the photography industry less than six months after graduating. It definitely could have been worse. However, I think the disillusionment from finishing university and starting a proper job was and still is there! It would, of course, be amazing to be photographing all the time and working on projects, but now it’s not possible to do that as much, and we have to make it work. I think that’s been the most difficult part since leaving university.

In terms of your creative career and also generally, what were some things you did during your final year and after graduating that you think helped you make the transition? On the other hand, what were some things you wish you did?

As I said previously, I managed to get a job almost immediately, and the job itself happened to be at the University of Westminster so it didn’t really feel like I had left! Other than that, I think staying in contact with my peers from university has helped greatly and has since been the basis for some wonderful projects. I guess I wish I had taken some time out to travel, or just live outside of London. It’s now at the point where I’ve always had a job since turning 16 and been studying ever since then as well. Time out to travel and take photographs would be ideal!


What’s your story?

I became interested in photography from a young age when I used to borrow my dad’s camera. It sounds self-critical but I was never really good at anything in school, and I never had a hobby that I enjoyed. Being asked to draw or paint by teachers brought me to tears and being forced into playing musical instruments by my mum put me off creating music (clearly I don’t handle authority very well).

Finding photography at school gave me the confidence and creative output I was searching for. Since then, I’ve not really stopped. I moved from digital to film when I was around 17 or 18 and then again from 35mm to 120mm whilst at university.

What made you move to film?

I was given a film camera, specifically a Pentax S1a as well as a few point and shoot cameras, and it just carried on from there! I was very lucky in the fact I was gifted with cameras often, including many Lomography cameras and my dad’s old Canon SLR. There was no excuse to not shoot film at that point. I am still very much in love with film.


Tell us more about Steel City.

My project came about from my love for Sheffield and its history. Originally I intended to document my family business which was also in Sheffield; however, early on during the project I realised a passion for the landscape and photographing it, and I quickly changed gears. Steel City is a culmination of my research into the history of Sheffield and photographing the city twice a month. As the project progressed I became more and more interested into the relationship between the industrial history and its connection within the topography of Sheffield itself.

Is the project finished? The simplicity of the concept is wonderful and it could be so easy to carry on infinitely with something like this.

At the moment it is finished, however, I am always finding new locations to go and shoot. I guess it could be the first series in a much larger project, who knows whats going to happen! I totally agree that it could easily go on forever, which I wouldn’t mind to be honest; I love going to Sheffield. I recently bought a book of photographs by Berris Connolly entitled Sheffield Photographs 1988-2008 and I love the idea of a project that is just constant and forever growing and expanding.

What inspires you?

The New Topographics are clear inspiration in my work, but photographers such as John Davies and John Darwell were also very influential. Generally, anyone working within British landscape photography today is an inspiration for my photography. I came across a photographer called Berris Connoley who has photographed Sheffield since the 1980s – some of the locations he has found are incredible! Also, I am an avid collector of Café Royal Books and their archiving of British photography.

Jarvis Cocker and the music of Pulp was also a huge influence on this project. I listened to anything I could get my hands on. It was important for me to get inspiration from people who know Sheffield and are from the city. Although I had worked in the city for six years and had been visiting since I was a teenager, I definitely still felt like an outsider.

What is it about the New Topographics movement that you like?

I appreciate the matter-of-fact approach to one’s surroundings. Finding beauty in the banal can be a very romantic idea but it is one that I enjoy. Their objective documentation within the photography creates a very satisfying aesthetic; the straight lines, the neutral perspective and the evenly exposed, flat lighting.


What are you up to next?

I am part of a collective called Topography of Modern Life. We had a show in London in the summer and were part of UNSEEN festival in Amsterdam this autumn. We are hoping to move the exhibition to other parts of the UK and even abroad. One of the projects involved was shot in Madrid so being able to take these projects back to their starting place would be fantastic.

In my own photography, I am working on a project I shot in May this year. I walked the Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain with my mum and photographed the landscapes as we walked.

TEW publications got in touch with me in the summer and are going to publish Steel City in the form of a zine. This is very exciting and I am happy to be a part of their collective! Finally, I am also starting to work on a collaborative project with my partner that aims to explore our long-distance relationship.

How has being part of a collective benefited you? 

Being able to work with dedicated, hard-working and talented photographers is always beneficial. I appreciate being around like-minded people who share a passion for their own photography as well as others, and being able to have a group of people to discuss ideas and projects with is extremely helpful. Referring back to earlier when we discussed graduating, once you’re out of university and on your own it can be quite demotivating to even think about making work. What’s amazing about being at university is that you are constantly around these beautiful and talented people all the time. Being part of a creative collective can help this transition.


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