This post was co-authored by Lydia Caston, Assistant Curator, Photography and Zofia Trafas White, Curator, V&A East
The V&A has acquired a selection of 10 photographs from Jamie Hawkesworth’s celebrated series Preston Bus Station (2011 – 2018), becoming the first museum in the UK to hold this photographer’s work. This series is now destined for display at the V&A East Museum.
Hawkesworth discovered photography while studying forensic science at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, taking pictures of reconstructed crime scenes. After less than a year, he changed his pathway to pursue a photography degree. Since 2012, he has produced advertising campaigns for major fashion houses including Alexander McQueen and JW Anderson, and editorial images for magazines such as Vogue, i-D and The New York Times. His critically acclaimed portraits of pandemic key workers featured on the cover of the July 2020 issue of British Vogue (now part of the V&A’s Rapid Response Collection). Hawkesworth’s pictures are characterised by his signature lo-fi, understated style. He works exclusively with available light and analogue camera film, often a Mamiya RB67, and develops and prints every photograph himself. The final prints tend towards warm tones, bathing Hawkesworth’s subjects in natural light and imbuing the pictures with a sense of optimism.
Hawkesworth is a member of the collective ‘Preston is my Paris’, which was founded in 2009 by photographers Adam Murray and Robert Parkinson. It began as a photocopied zine with the aim of showcasing Preston as a subject for creative practice, and became a multi-faceted project rooted in photography that includes publications, installations and events. Hawkesworth and his former university lecturer Murray spent a weekend in 2010 taking portraits of young people who caught their eye at Preston bus station.
Two years later, after hearing that the building was threatened with demolition as part of the City Council’s redevelopment project, Hawkesworth temporarily moved back to Preston to document life in the station building. The station is a Brutalist landmark built in 1968-69 by Ove Arup and Partners, to a design by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of Building Design Partnership with E.H. Stazicker. Through the efforts of ‘Preston is my Paris’ and other local campaigners, the building was saved and granted Grade II listed building status in 2013. It was redeveloped in association with a new youth centre and officially reopened in 2018.
Hawkesworth’s project was accompanied by a film and two limited-edition books. He generously gifted a copy of the 2017 Dashwood edition to the V&A’s National Art Library.
“Preston Bus Station was the first place where I really looked at light. The huge bus station windows literally showing me how light moved and changed throughout the day. I began to see, feel and understand its effect, I was becoming sensitive to light. Being patient in such a transitional space began to amplify every detail. Everything became significant. In the continuous motion of people’s days, light became a magnifying glass—a tool to study and appreciate life. A cold circular space became heaven.”Jamie Hawkesworth
Preston Bus Station was a defining project for Hawkesworth, affirming his passion for observing and elevating the everyday. His captivating images epitomise the power of photographers as agents of observation, revealing and celebrating details of city life often overlooked.
Preston Bus Station is a powerful portrait of people and place. Created in the context of a campaign to save the bus station building, Hawkesworth’s photography project brought a poignant and empathetic focus to the local residents and travellers who use it – communities to whom loss of the station would have mattered most. To capture the series, he spent a month in Preston, visiting the station daily from 8am to 8pm, walking through it in a circular loop and patiently, slowly looking. His documentary vision was shaped both by his curiosity as an observer – seeking to witness chance moments – and a respect for his subjects, notably always requesting permission from those he wished to photograph. The resulting collection of images read like a series of vignettes of station life, celebrating the diversity of its users, from travelling family groups to local teenagers hanging out in the station’s daylit halls. The portraits are candid and warm, suffused with Hawkesworth’s signature attention to natural light and colour.
Hawkesworth’s project came to be linked to local campaigns to save the station building and reimagine its future civic uses, notably by groups like Gate 81 who invited him for workshops. His photographs were even shown in situ as part of a special exhibition at the station itself, with large-format prints pasted onto the walls.
At the V&A East Museum, we hope that Preston Bus Station can be the starting point for many conversations. The series will feature in our thematic collection galleries that will explore attitudes and agendas for making in the twenty-first century and bring together the voices of makers from diverse geographies and time periods to explore contemporary concerns. Hawkesworth’s work will speak powerfully to the craft and transformative power of documentary photography and the role it can play in exploring social issues and surfacing hidden narratives of belonging and identity – agendas important to the new institution we want to create at V&A East.
In the meantime, as our gallery research continues, we look forward to exploring Hawkesworth’s latest projects. His newly launched photography book The British Isles builds on the legacy of the Preston project to offer a powerfully democratising portrait of the United Kingdom. Developed over 13 years of travel across the country, it is a unique travelogue capturing people and landscapes through his characteristically warm and dignifying lens. As Hawkesworth continues his photographic journeys, we look forward to seeing what he does next.